Heinz History Center Showcases the Evolution of Football Helmets

Pulled from the Senator John Heinz History Center’s artifact collection, these helmets show how far helmet technology and safety considerations have come.

By Ian Mikrut
Photos by Michael Fornataro

football helmet evolution timeline

This helmet, which dates back to the 1950s, features stitched leather and nothing but a wool lining and nylon chin strap to protect the wearer.

football helmet evolution timeline

This leather helmet was actually worn by Pittsburgh native Tom Politylo. He played football for the Shaler Athletic Club in the early 1950s and probably faced Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas when he played for the semi-pro Bloomfield Rams, says Heinz History Center Senior Communications Manager Brady Smith.

This game-used Pittsburgh Steelers helmet, worn by offensive lineman Mike Sandusky between 1959-61, features the familiar black and gold color pattern, but notice that today’s logo was not yet used. The players’ numbers appeared on both sides of the helmet until 1962, when equipment manager Jack Hart famously applied the “steel” logo to the helmet’s right side.

This game-used Pittsburgh Steelers helmet, worn by offensive lineman Mike Sandusky between 1959-61, features the familiar black and gold color pattern, but notice that today’s logo was not yet used. The players’ numbers appeared on both sides of the helmet until 1962, when equipment manager Jack Hart famously applied the “steel” logo to the helmet’s right side.

“It’s interesting to take a step back in time and look at this equipment to see how far helmet technology has advanced through the years,” Smith says. “These helmets not only showcase the evolution of football gear, but also uniquely tell their own individual stories.”

Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Strip District. 412.454.6000. heinzhistorycenter.org.
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