Inventions That Changed the Sports History | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Inventions That Changed Sports History

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Do You Know The Origins These Sports Inventions?

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Ever wondered where we got the football helmet? See how the history of sports has changed due to these five simple sports inventions.

The inventor’s genius is the ability to look at the everyday and see something new. Players, coaches, and fans with unorthodox views have changed the standard for many sports.

The Penalty Flag:

Before the penalty flag, football referees blew a horn attached to their wrists to signify a penalty and blew a whistle to stop the play. On the sidelines in Youngstown, Ohio, Dike Beede couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

“I thought that perhaps if there were some visual signal given which wouldn’t be heard by the players, it would be helpful,” Beede said later.

On October 17, 1941, the Youngstown College Penguins were to play a night game against Oklahoma City. Dike asked his wife, Irma, to make four flags. She sewed triangles of red cloth from a Halloween costume to triangles of white cloth from a bed sheet. Into one corner of each flag she sewed curtain weights.

“If you drop one of these whenever there’s a penalty, I think we’ll have a better game,” Dike suggested to the officials.

But the historical importance of this game passed unnoticed. The Penguins won, and three of the officials threw away their flags.

Only Jack McPhee, the head linesman, kept his, and he was to use it often. For this reason, McPhee is often credited with throwing the first flag.

McPhee did make history a few years later when he tossed Irma Beede’s flag in a game between Ohio State and Iowa in Columbus, Ohio. The Big 10 commissioner was in the stands. The next week, the flag was adopted throughout the conference. In 1948, the NFL approved the penalty flag.

The 24-Second Shot Clock:

Attendance was low in the National Basketball Association in the early 1950s. The problem was time: too much of it. Danny Biasone, the former owner of the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers), recalled games in which no one scored during the last 8 minutes. “The game had become a stalling game,” he said before his death in 1992. “A team would get ahead, even in the first half, and it would go into a stall. The other team would keep fouling, and it got to be a constant parade to the foul line. Boy, was it dull!

“We needed a time element in our game,” he said.

Biasone, along with Nats general manager Leo Ferris and head scout  Emil Barboni, calculated the number of shots that he thought each team should take to make a lively game and settled on 60. Divided into 48 minutes of play, this worked out to 24 seconds between shots. On August 10, 1954, the NBA Board of Governors convened in a high school gym in Syracuse to watch a pickup game monitored by the clock. When the Rochester Royals played the Boston Celtics to open the regular season on October 30, 1954, the shot clock was part of the game. In the very first season, the average scoring per team jumped by 13.6 points to 93.1. Biasone’s invention remains the professional standard, and he is credited with saving the NBA.

The Helmet:

In 1939 Gerry E. Morgan and the John T. Riddell Company of Chicago patented a molded plastic helmet with a web suspension that could be adjusted to fit the player. An experimental use in the 1939 College All-Star Game in Chicago was a hit. But Riddell couldn’t get plastic during the  war. Instead, the company sold the patent rights to the Army. Soldiers at Corregidor, Anzio, and Omaha Beach went into battle wearing football helmets under their steel helmets. When the Army won the national collegiate championship wearing the helmets in 1944, other colleges took note.

The Catcher’s Mitt:

In the barehanded days of early baseball, the catcher required the nerves of a test pilot. While a team might carry only one or two pitchers, it took a platoon of catchers to finish a game. In an 1875 game against Harvard, William “Gunner” McGunnigle of Fall River, Massachusetts, wore a pair of bricklayer’s gloves and spawned the modern catcher’s mitt. Heavily padded gloves made specifically for catcher’s were soon on the market. An 1890 advertisement for Spalding gloves listed four different models priced from $2 to $5. “No player subject to sore hands should be without a pair,” the ad urged.

The Modern Golf Ball:

In 1898, Coburn Haskell, a Cleveland, Ohio, dentist whose obsession was golf, and Bertram C. Work, a superintendent at the B. F. Goodrich Company, played one of the most important rounds in the history of golfing equipment.

“Why don’t you do something constructive,” Work chided.

“No thanks,” Haskell replied. “Golf is all I care about.”

“Then invent a better golf ball,” Work suggested.

Haskell accepted the challenge. Armed with a supply of elastic yarn, he worked at winding the stretched rubber into a tight ball. When the ball reached the size of a small marble, it shot from his fingers and bounced around the room. Haskell finally came up with a round ball under tension and wrapped in gutta percha gum. When a local golf pro tested the Haskell prototype, he watched in amazement as it landed yards beyond a bunker that no one had ever reached in one drive. A patent for the design was granted on April 11, 1899. The Haskell-Work golf balls, manufactured by B. F. Goodrich, became so prized that play would actually be stopped until a lost ball was found.

Prior to Haskell’s ball, golfers had played with leather balls filled with hair, leather balls filled with feathers, and gutta percha gum balls.

The Golf Tee:

In 1921, at the age of 60, Dr. William Lowell from South Orange, New Jersey, took up golf. He was appalled by the practice of teeing the ball on a pyramid of wet sand, leaving a player with gritty hands. Instead, Lowell used his dental tools to whittle a golf tee. Although Dr. Lowell’s partners referred to his tees as “suppositories for wildcats,” Lowell’s sons saw commercial potential in the tee, and in 1924 Lowell received a patent. His Reddy Tee was packed in boxes of 18 that sold for a quarter. Lowell imagined golfers would leave them behind and use a box per round. He even planned a biodegradable version until he realized golfers were hanging on to the little wooden spikes. The tee got a professional boost when Walter Hagen, the U.S. Open champion, pulled up to Dr. Lowell’s dental office and asked where he could get more tees. Advertised as “The Tee of Champions,” 70 million Reddy Tees sold worldwide in 1929. By then competition was catching up to Dr. Lowell, and his company office was closed in 1933.

Do you know of any sport inventions that have changed history?

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