Being a fan of hockey after playing my entire life and coaching for the past decade along with being a patent attorney, I recently began to wonder about patents for hockey players and hockey equipment. A brief review of the history of head protection patents resulted in discovering that head protection for hockey players began well before helmets were mandatory for the 1979-1980 NHL season.
The oldest patent for head protection is U.S. Pat. No. 127 331 for Improvements in Safety-Masks issued on May 28, 1872:
You could wear this mask on Halloween and carry a fake machete and no one would ask you to explain your costume. I probably will have nightmares about this mask for weeks. I’m glad that this design is not still in use.
For patents drawn to sports masks, baseball was first to the plate. U.S. Patent No. 200 358 issued on Feb. 12, 1878 entitled Masks was specifically made for catchers and umpires:
This mask looks to be very uncomfortable to wear and I am sure that catchers and umpires are very glad about developments for face coverings that they wear all summer long in the hot sun.
Most of the head protection patents in the 1800s were drawn to masks for baseball players until the ball was passed to football with U.S. Patent No. 460 301 entitled Mask issued on Sept. 29, 1891:
It does not take too much imagination to determine why this mask did not have extensive use.
The next entry in helmet protection was personally unexpected and was drawn to motor sports with U.S. Patent No. 825 288 entitled Face Shield issued on July 10, 1906. Apparently, it was easier to apply the windshield to the driver than to the vehicle:
Next to step into the ring was head protection for boxers with U.S. Patent No. 1 004 737 entitled Protection for use in Boxing issued on Oct. 3, 1911:
I believe that this looks more like a very bad Halloween costume than a boxing helmet, but it certainly would protect the boxer.
Finally, hockey jumped over the boards and stepped on the ice with U.S. Patent No. 1 523 521 entitled Eye Protection Mask issued on Jan. 20, 1925:
While this invention is solely for protecting the eyes, it is the first issued patent that mentions use for protecting an area of the head of a hockey player. While there apparently is some dispute as to whether George Owen or Marty Burke was the first player to wear protective head gear in an NHL game, it happened during the 1928-1929 NHL season, several years after the patenting of the Eye Protection Mask.
The patent referenced above protected the eyes of a hockey player. However, it was not until over 40 years later that a patent issued specifically drawn to a helmet for a hockey player. Namely, U.S. Patent No. 3 373 443 entitled Combination Helmet and Face Mask issued on March 19, 1968:
While better than no protection, I am very glad about the advancements in hockey helmets since this invention. This hockey helmet looks more like a restrainment device for Hannibal Lecter than something I would want my kids to wear while playing hockey.
This ends my walk down history lane on patents drawn to hockey helmets. I hope that I did not miss any patents and I spent quite a bit of time researching this project. Now that I am done, I can sit back and relax to a nice cup of coffee, preferably brewed using the Hockey Helmet Coffee Maker of U.S. Design Patent No. D661 537: