Baseball Helmets and 20th Century Design

Baseball Helmets and 20th Century Design

Baseball Helmet

Mid-century baseball helmet made of molded plastic and a foam lining, designed by American Baseball Cap.

Baseball season is in full swing (no pun intended), so we couldn't help but share this plastic helmet from the seminal 1968 Museum of Contemporary Crafts exhibition, "Body Covering," in New York City.

Today it might seem odd to feature an object as pervasive in sports as a helmet, but back in the mid-20th century, the practice of protecting one's skull was fairly novel. While the first "head protector" was patented in 1905, usage of the early helmet, described by Dan Gutman as a “goofy-looking device that resembled a boxing glove wrapped around the batter’s head,” was uncommon.

Following the death and injury of several players between the 1920s and 1940s, designers started experimenting with the creation of lighter, more functional helmets, many of which resembled earmuffs. Articles about baseball helmets in Popular Science magazine began to appear around 1940, demonstrating the practicality of the new designs.

More teams started to adopt use of the helmet throughout the early 1950s, and organizations like American Baseball Cap, maker of the plastic helmet featured in "Body Covering," worked with team managers on the object's development. Yet, it wasn't until 1956 and 1958, respectively, that the National and American Leagues adopted regulations governing helmet use.

Before the advent of plastic, helmets made specifically for baseball were often awkwardly constructed from plaster poured over cloth caps. As Cecil Lubell states in the "Body Covering" catalog, the advent of plastics altered the need for such laborious processes. "They [plastics] can be textured and treated in many different ways. They can be made rigid or elastic, bright or dull. They reject water, resist creasing, fungus and insects. When set by heat, they keep their shape and creases. They are strong, durable and easy to care for. They blend well and functionally with the fibers of nature." 

Throwback Thursday is a weekly series highlighting visuals from the American Craft Council Library's Digital Collections database. Check back on Thursdays for more.