Leatherheads, what exactly is a leatherhead?
Is it a movie starring George Clooney? Well, yes, that is one definition. The leatherheads I am talking about are actual players who wore the helmets we now refer to as ‘leatherheads’. We may very well thank the very popular movie for coining the phrase ‘leatherheads’ as I was unable to find historical references to the general public referring to early football players as ‘leatherheads’. However, there is some indication that the helmets themselves were referred to as leatherheads.
Leatherheads-The Early Years
The very first leather football helmet was worn in an 1893 Army-Navy game. An Annapolis shoe maker developed it for Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves who had been advised by a Navy doctor that he would risk death,insanity or paralysis should he take another blow to his head during a game. Later helmets improved design with padding, ear flaps and eventually face guards.
Padding but No Helmets
Players often devised their own method of padding the body and crude shoulder and hip pads were worn throughout the early years of football particularly in the early 1900’s. Helmets were a rarity to see on players and often some player wore them while others did not. In the 1920’s leather helmets became more accepted but were still not mandatory.
Early helmets had no identifying marks upon them whatsoever. As with all games, fierce competition and team pride resulted in some colleges and high schools to paint their helmets by hand. Certain colors or team mascots were eventually painted on to easily distinguish team players. Imagine being a quarterback attempting to find the receiver far down field with no identifying marks on the receiver! Imagine that being a mud game! how difficult that must have been especially if the receiver was well covered! Modern day players can thank the Rams for starting the painting of team logo’s on helmets. In 1948 the Rams horns were painted on team helmets and soon after all football helmets bore a teams logo or colors.
While we cannot imagine playing a game of football without protective gear the era of ‘leatherheads’ shows the true grit those early players had. They took a beating week after week and often went to their regular jobs during the week. Their sheer determination and love of the game has given us the football we know today and thankfully our players are much more protected.
Leather Helmets Today
If you can find a leather helmet from that golden era you would be lucky! To find one that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg would be an even bigger accomplishment. Finding images of ‘leatherheads’ can be difficult as well. International sports artist Andy Goralski has just finished a fine art piece titled “From Leather to Legendary’ that portrays the Acme Packers team with the infamous leatherhead helmets. In the back round is the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay showing off its newly renovated look. This fine art piece is available in fine art prints and also available on canvas. To find out more and see this legendary piece of sports art complete with a team of ‘leatherheads’ go to