If you’re a sports fan and like collectibles, old football helmets are probably on your list. With so many out there and a robust history, they are a fun item to collect. Considering the cumbersome nature of old football helmets, you probably don’t want to have a massive amount of them laying around, but having a few from your favorite teams or helmets from one team throughout the years could be a fun collector goal.

While we are on the subject, let’s answer some questions about old football helmets. When were they invented? How have they changed over the years? Before you buy it will be helpful to have some knowledge on the subject when narrowing down options.


Old football helmets date back to 1896, but they looked nothing like the helmets we have today. A college student used straps and earpieces not to protect his whole head, but his ears while playing at a Lafayette College. However, there is not exact answer to who invented the football helmet. While it is debated, James Naismith is one person who is credited with the creating. Another person also credited is Joseph M. Reeves. He made a protective helmet from a mole skin to wear while playing football after a doctor told him that getting kicked in the head one more time would result in a permanent injury.

In the beginning of old football helmets, they were not mandatory. The thought of an optional helmet is absurd today, considering all the knowledge we have about head injuries in football. In the early 1900s, that was not the case. The soft helmets were quickly replaced with hardened leather, and in 1917 they started to be designed to leave space between the head and the helmet to make blows less intense.

The plastic helmets we know today didn’t come around until 1939 and were originally manufactures by a company in Chicago called the Riddell Company. Plastic helmets were thought to be safer and sturdier. They are also thought to be more comfortable. Helmets finally became mandatory in 1940 in the National Football League.

Once they introduced the plastic face mask portion, they started to resemble the old football helmets we know today. The first time a facemask on an old football helmet was worn in 1956 during a Cleveland Browns game. Along with other technologies like radios being installed in the old football helmets so coaches could communicate with the team, modern advancements have changed the way helmets look for the modern ones we have now.

Old Football Helmet Styles

Now that we know some history, let’s look at some of the styles more in depth. The original old football helmet was not leather, it was in fact two pieces of flannel sewn together to protect the ears. This progressed into the whole head covering but was still flannel. The style wasn’t particularly safe and mainly covered the ears providing little skull padding, but better than nothing, right?

Moving on from flannel the old football helmets were made of leather. This version still did not contain the straps until 1896 when a man named George Barclay didn’t want to wear a helmet exposing his ears. A common football term is “time to strap up,” and this is when the football helmet strap was born.

After the leather style became popular, the plastic helmets came around for optimum protection. If you are shopping for old football helmets, perhaps you are looking to have one of each style to document the history of the helmets. Collecting something from each era would be a cool way to do this.

How Much Do Old Football Helmets Cost?

There is no one answer to this question since there are so many types and they span over such a long time. If you were to browse eBay for old football helmets, you will be met with an array of different options.

If you are looking for something like a leather football helmet, it will run you in the mid hundreds to get something intact. For more modern plastic helmets you may be looking at spending $200 depending on what year and team you are looking at. Other helmets that don’t have team names or anything can be less than $100.

Whatever you are looking for, have fun on your search. There are so many different types of old football helmets out there. You never know what you’ll find.