John Tate Riddell was born in Georgetown, Michigan in October, 1885. After graduating "Cum Laude" from Bethany College in 1909 he did graduate work at Yale, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago.
From 1913 through 1927 he taught Mathematics and was Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois. It was at this time Mr. Riddell invented and developed the removable cleat.
He did it to solve a problem for his Evanston High School team. In those years football shoes were equipped with leather cleats. At the time, football cleats were made of leather and nailed to the sole of the shoe. Changing cleats due to inclement weather required the services of a cobbler to have longer "mud cleats" installed. Because Northwestern University used the same cobbler as Evanston Township High School, Evanston's football shoes were often not finished by game time.
Riddell knew his idea would solve this problem for everyone, once and for all. Lacking the capital necessary to start his own business, Riddell had his shoes manufactured by the J.P. Smith Shoe Company, and he and his wife installed the posts and cleats in the evenings. He continued to teach, coach and produce his shoes until 1927, when, with the popularity of shoes growing, he left education to devote his entire effort to producing shoes. John T. Riddell, Inc. was formed in February, 1929.
Mr. Riddell's talent for inventing and improving sports equipment did not end with the removable cleat. Shortly after incorporating, baseball and track shoes were added to the line. Next came Riddell's development of the first molded, seamless basketball, which was marketed until the start of World War II, when pure rubber latex became unavailable. Because he was never satisfied with post-war subsitute materials, he never pursued the idea further.
Prior to World War II, with the birth of the new plastics industry, Riddell was on the verge of revolutionizing the protective helmet field by inventing and patenting the webbed suspension. As early as 1939 Mr. Riddell had perfected the first plastic suspension helmet. He intended to replace the soft leather helmet then used with a helmet consisting of a hard plastic shell containing his webbed suspension, which would absorb and attenuate impacts to the head sustained during a football game. However, before he was able to produce his suspension helmet, the war began and plastic became unavailable.
At the request of the U.S. Government, Riddell granted them a license to use his suspension in the production of military helmets and liners. For a more thorough examination of this facet of Riddell's history, see Saved by Riddell, by noted army helmet historian and author Chris Armold.
Mr. Riddell never lived to see his helmet become the most popular helmet ever made. He died on July 3, 1945. Despite his death, his company was successful in marketing his suspension helmet, beginning in 1946 with the RT-2 model. Through the early years, although the company had been engaged in the production and sale of various sporting goods products, the thrust of its product development and attention had been in the areas of athletic shoes and protective helmets. The popularity of the Riddell helmets has steadily increased since its introduction in 1946.
While athletic shoes played an important part in Riddell's corporate life, it became impossible to compete with foreign-made athletic shoes causing the discontinuance of the shoe line in 1979. However, by the mid- '80s Riddell was embarking on a strategy to broaden its protective football business by introducing a line of high school shoulder pads. This was soon augmented by a line of youth shoulder pads. In 1988 Riddell acquired the Power Athletic Company, a manufacturer of ultra-high quality professional shoulder pads. This acquisition spurred a complete revamp and expansion of the Riddell branded pad line which has resulted in volume that rivals any competing shoulder pad company.
Buoyed by the success of its helmet and shoulder pad lines, Riddell successfully negotiated an agreement with the National Football League in 1989 that allowed the Riddell brand prominent display in televised NFL games in exchange for Riddell helmets and Power shoulder pads for NFL players.
1922 First Removable Cleats
1929 First Action Last
1939 First Plastic Helmet
1939 First Web Suspension
1940 First Chin Strap worn on chin
1940 First Low-Cut football shoes
1940 First Plastic Facemask
1951 First Clear Bar Guard
1957 First Tubular Bar Guard
1962 First Nose Protector – U Guard
1963 First Aero Cells in a Helmet
1969 First Microfit Helmet
1973 First Air Cushion Helmet
1974 First Professionally Tested Youth Helmet Interior System
1977 First Ripple Sole Soccer Shoe
1977 First Stainless Steel Facemasks
1981 First Air Cushioned Engineered Helmet
1989 First X-Wide Cantilever
1989 Protective Valve Cap System
1989 First Official Supplier of Helmets and Pads to the National Football League
1990 First Air Impact System
1990 First Chambered Air Transfer System
1990 First Official Supplier of Helmets and Pads to the World Football League
1991 First Self-Contained Inflation Helmet
1994 Riddell Acquires SharCo
2001 Riddell introduces The Revolution TM football helmet
2004 -- Riddell announces launch of Riddell Sideline Response System, a new technology that combines a real-time, on- field head impact telemetry system (HIT System), team management software, and cognitive testing to provide a new standard of care for the athlete.
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