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Today's Tidbit... Cal Tech's Eyeglass Shield
I'm a sucker for oddball pieces of player equipment that one person or another developed along the way, and the more quickly the equipment died out, the better. Facial and eye protection is among football's richest veins for oddball equipment. The nose guards of the 1890s and 1910s led to executioner's masks in the 1920s, and birdcage face masks in the 1930s, and a proliferation of Lucite and rubber-covered metal masks in the 1950s.
Some facial protection protected the eyes or allowed players to wear eyeglasses on the field. Others with vision issues opted to wear prescription goggles in various forms, such as those worn by Brick Marcus, covered in a recent Tidbit.
I've since come across another interesting form of eye protection in 1940 and 1941 at Cal Tech that was quite impressive, and I wonder why it did not see use beyond there. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any references to this equipment, so it remains a mystery.
Cal Tech, like every school, had students that wore eyeglasses. Unlike most schools, Cal Tech players had players wearing eyeglasses in their publicity shots, including their 1941 center-quarterback combination. While unusual, players with eyeglasses typically took them off once the action started, but several images show players wearing their glasses on the field under an eyeglass shield.
The best image of Cal Tech’s eyeglass shield shows the center, Holditch, standing on the sideline while on the 1939 freshman team.
The 1940 season also saw a varsity running back wearing an eyeglass shield during a game.
A fourth player kneeling in the center of the image below wore eyeglasses under his shield during a varsity game in 1941.
The interesting aspect of the eyeglass shields is their similarity to the clear plastic shields that entered hockey in the 1970s and football in the 1980s. Lucite (aka plexiglass or acrylic) started commercialization in the 1930s, so Cal Tech's shields likely were made of Lucite or a similar material. However, Cal Tech did not field intercollegiate football after the U.S. entered WWII, so perhaps the shield developers focused their efforts on airplane cockpits or other defense uses of Lucite and left the eyeglass shields behind following the war.
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