The Invention of Football - The Story Behind the Ball we All Know

The invention of football, the ball used in the popular team game is not necessarily attributed to one inventor. But most historians agree that one English shoe maker is responsible to the way footballs looks today.

Early footballs where essentially pig’s or other animals’ bladders which were inflated by the power of the human lungs (blowing hot air into them) and then tied and sealed, much like balloons would be sealed – knotted at the end.

As a result, they were often plum or pear shaped, and not round, depending on the size of the individual animal’s bladder.

Before the invention of football as we know it, balls were often prone to exploding, which led to shoemakers selling leather cases to protect the inflated bladders. Shoes and boots makers used leather on a daily bases and were the most appropriate to sew the balls leather cases.

Until the 1860, football, soccer and rugby were all played with a plum or pear shaped ball made of leather, encasing an inflated animal bladder.

In Europe the first proper football invented is attributed to two shoemakers: Richard Lindon and William Gilbert who invented round and oval shaped balls. Lindon is credited for inventing the Rubber inflatable bladder.

In 1849, at the age of 33, Lindon, who worked just in front of the rugby school in Rugby England, was constantly asked to create footballs for the school’s boys.

As a shoemaker he was regularly receiving leather supply for making shoes and so used to create balls for the boys from leather covered pig’s bladders.

Both Lindon and his wife worked preparing the requested balls. Lindon’s wife was responsible to inflating the bladders by blowing air into them.

This was a dangerous occupation, as many bladders were infected and originated from diseased pigs.

It was around 1862 that Lindon has started looking for an alternative to inflated pig’s rubbers that would be safer than the current practice. For his wife, those efforts came too late. She eventually died by falling ill from inflating too many infected pig’s bladders.

Lindon invented an inflatable inner tube made of natural rubber, instead of the existing animal bladders. Because of the pliability of rubber the shape of the footballs could since be moulded to the shape of a perfect round sphere.

His first prototype was made from such a rubber inflated tube covered with 7 strips of leather, stitched at the end with bottoms on both sides. The ball was almost spherical. This design gained popularity and became the one he used for all footballs he sold.

Since he found inflating the rubber he used too hard to do he invented a brass pump, inspired by a simple ear syringe, which could be used to inflate his footballs without the need to blow them up with ones mouth. Thus he is also credited not only for the invention of football but also for the invention of the air pump.

Until his death, Lindon has never patented the bladder, ball or air pump he invented. 

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