May 10, 2015
Instead of selling his patent rights to a major, national sporting goods manufacturer, Schemel apparently produced and distributed his "Jacket for Foot-ball Players" himself. While there are no known advertisements for Schemel's jacket, provenance from a lone surviving example led to the discovery that the Colorado College football team wore the jackets in the early 1910's. It's unknown how and for how long Schemel manufactured and distributed his pads across the country from his Yonkers, New York leather repair shop.
Football Shoulder Pad Evolution
Schemel's jacket design did not immediately catch on with the major sporting goods manufacturers. In 1910, Reach still only sold sew-on pads and Spalding had just introduced the No. LL Collar-Bone Protector. Frequently mistaken as a pair of child sized shoulder pads, the No. LL was designed to protected the collarbone but not the shoulders.
Spalding No. LL Collar-Bone Protector, c. 1910-1921
Spalding Collar-Bone Protector Ad, 1910
Spalding No. MF Collar-Bone Protector, c. 1914
A variation of the YF with canvas shoulder pads
Spalding Combined Adjustable Shoulder Pads and Collar-Bone Protectors Ad, 1911
Combination Shoulder, Shoulder-Blade and Collar-Bone Protector and Jacket
Easily winning the title of shoulder protection with the longest name, Spalding's No. BM Combination Shoulder, Shoulder-Blade, and Collar-Bone Protector and Jacket was introduced in 1914. Based on a patent received by George L. Pierce of Brooklyn, New York on April 28, 1914, the No. BM was designed with pads pre-attached to a close-fitting, sleeved jacket to prevent the pads from shifting during play. The Gwar-esque "leather ridge and barbette protectors" shown in the patent and catalog illustrations were sole leather pockets filled with a soft material. The No. BM was apparently not very popular as it disappeared from the Spalding catalog by 1917.
No. BM Protector and Jacket Ad, Spalding Official Football Guide for 1914
Jacket for Foot-Ball Players
Patented on November 27, 1906, Abraham Schemel's "Jacket for Foot-Ball Players" is considered the genesis of the modern football shoulder pads. Similar to Whitley's Armor, Schemel's design incorporated protection for both the collarbone and shoulders, but as a flexible and adjustable apparatus which permitted free range of motion. The body of the jacket was made of a pliable leather lace up vest with wool padding about the chest and rigid, sole leather caps on the shoulders. Schemel described his invention as follows:
It is well understood that in the game of foot-ball the collar-bone and shoulders are especially liable to injury, and while some attempts have been made to protect these parts the means heretofore devised for the purpose have been inadequate and clumsy and not acceptable to foot-ball players.
In accordance with my invention I provide a flexible jacket fitting the upper portions of the body and so constructed, arranged, and padded that the jacket is not only entirely comfortable of use, but does adequately protect the collar-bones and shoulders and enables the exercise of the highest degree of skill in playing the game.
Patent Illustration, Jacket for Foot-Ball Players, Abraham Schemel, Submitted January 9, 1905
Combined Adjustable Shoulder Pads and Collar Bone Protectors
In 1911, Spalding began selling the No. YF Combined Adjustable Shoulder Pads and Collar-Bone Protector "after consultation with some of the most prominent and successful athletic trainers in this country." The YF combined a heavy felt collar-bone pad with Model Y molded leather shoulder pads, similar to Spalding's sole leather No. 25.
Foot Ball Armor - The First Shoulder Pads
In 1902, Rawlings Sporting Goods introduced a line of "Foot Ball Wearing Apparel," called "Whitley's Foot Ball Armor." Invented by Rawlings employee William Whitley, this innovative line incorporated cane ribs and molded leather caps into union suits and smock vests to create the "Armor Jacket" and the "Armored Combination Suit."
From an evolutionary standpoint, adding cane ribs to these standard football uniforms was a relatively inconsequential modification. However, for players wearing jerseys instead of vests or suits, Whitley designed the "Armor," a shortened canvas jacket that has unmistakable similarities to the modern shoulder pads. The Armor utilized rigid, padded, sole leather shoulder caps, and adjustable, elastic, underarm straps to keep the apparatus in place during play.
Leading equipment manufacturers such as Spalding and Reach, would not offer their own combination shoulder and collarbone pads until after 1910.
Whitley's Armor enlargement, The Sporting Goods Dealer, November 1903
Whitley's Armor advertisement, The Sporting Goods Dealer, November 1903
Surviving example, Schemel's Jacket for Foot Ball Players, c. 1910
Updated: January 15, 2017