Today's Tidbit... Navy's Featherweight Football Gear of 1927
The mid-1920s saw an explosion in new football uniforms and equipment as coaches, manufacturers, and the Navy team physician pursued equipment designs that were lighter and more protective. Football pads of the early 1920s were primarily made of leather with felt padding, while the uniforms included canvas or moleskin pants (both cotton fabrics) and wool jerseys. Fully equipped players wore about 15 pounds of equipment, which increased to 25 pounds in wet conditions.
A few years ago, I learned about Lt. George E. Mott, who was the Naval Academy’s team physician in the 1920s and became interested in preventing injuries, not just treating them. His interest led to working with a sporting goods manufacturer on new equipment designs featuring fiber crowns in helmets, hip and kidney pads, and thigh and shoulder pads. He also replaced felt and other padding materials with sponge or foam rubber, which was lighter, more protective, and was not water absorbent. They also made new pants of airplane cloth, the lighter version used on airplane wings, not the tougher fuselage cloth. The combination meant players were better protected and not anchored down by their gear, which weighed less than six pounds.
Referred to as featherweight equipment, Texas began using similar equipment in 1926. Missouri did so in 1928, justifying increased ticket prices due to the expense of the new equipment.
So, I recently acquired the 1927-28 GoldSmith Fall and Winter Catalog, which featured lines of featherweight equipment they developed with the Army and Navy. The catalog gives us the opportunity to look at the featherweight gear produced for Army and Navy while doing a deep dive into Navy’s equipment.
GoldSmith applied for patents in 1925 for foam rubber pads in helmet interiors, but featherweight lines of 1927 represented the first concerted effort to use sponge or foam rubber and fiber wherever possible. GoldSmith was the first to produce disintegrating pants, which separated the hip, thigh, and knee pads into separate units rather than building them into the pants.
The cantilevered shoulder pads used foam rubber and fiber; much of it was covered in khaki and strapped around the chest rather than the arms, as shown near the end of this article.
The featherweight helmet used molded fiber for the exterior, reinforced with leather straps, while the interior used a leather “hammock” at the crown and a foam ring wrapping around the head.
GoldSmith enjoyed the exclusive right to produce football pants using government-spec Flightex cloth, the same material used on Navy planes and on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. There was no better recommendation than Lindbergh once he crossed the Atlantic in May 1927.
Being fleet of foot mattered to the Navy, and soon, everyone who could afford them switched to lighter equipment when replacing their old gear. Pants made of Flightex fabric and silk were more easily dyed than their canvas and moleskin predecessors, allowing teams to adopt vibrant purples, reds, and other colors for their pants rather than earth tones.
The 1920s saw football uniforms become lighter and brighter, with the move in that direction receiving a solid push from a Navy doctor. Mott remained in the Navy throughout his career, serving during WWII and being wounded in the South Pacific before returning stateside for administrative roles. Nevertheless, if you wore football equipment that weighed less than 25 pounds when soaking wet during your career, you owe thanks to Lt. George E. Mott, USN.
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