Back on April 27th, I ran a Ticker item about this page from a 1958 MacGregor catalog. “Dig item G914,” I wrote. “Who’s Ted Sowle?” A reader helped fill in some of the blanks with this comment, but that didn’t address the question of the headgear shown in the old catalog. Had Sowle designed it, or had it been named after him for some other reason?
I got an answer a few days later, when I received an e-mail from one Ted Sowle. But no, not that Ted Sowle. Here’s what the note said:
Ted Sowle was my grandfather. He passed away in 1971, just before I was born. I was researching his past when I came across your question about him. … He holds many patents regarding the safety of, primarily, football athletes. A very creative guy and a hell of a football coach (was asked to coach for Notre Dame but turned it down, or so I’m told).
Ted offered to send me some of his grandfather’s patents — an offer I readily accepted. And sure enough, he designed the eyewear protector shown in the old catalog page (you can see the rest of that patent’s paperwork here). That design was apparently a refinement of a similar contraption he’d patented nine years earlier (full paperwork here).
Ted sent me nine patents in all, and they fell into three broad categories. The two designs I just showed you related to eyewear protection. There were also two harnesses, patented less than a year apart, that were designed to provide hip and body protection for football players, although the gear kinda looks more like S&M fetishwear (full paperwork here and here).
The other five patents were all faceguard-related, and that’s where things got interesting. Remember these photos from the Life archive? That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw this (paperwork), this (paperwork), and this (paperwork). But the Life photo sequence is from 1951, while Sowle’s patents are from several years later (and, as I eventually discovered when I read the fine print, are not based on a plexiglass concept).
Sowle’s other two facemask patents, which he received in the 1960s, featured pivoting action — one for a single pivot-mounted bar (paperwork) and the other for a slightly more elaborate assembly (paperwork).
Looks like ol’ Ted was quite the inventer. Had he been a trained engineer or designer, or did he just link to tinker? “Not an engineer — just a coach who cared, I guess,” said the younger Ted.
Amazing stuff, right? Very DIY, when you think about it. Meanwhile, I had lots of additional questions: Did Sowle patent other inventions? Did any of his designs gain widespread acceptance? Were there any designs that he felt were unjustly ignored or underrated? Did he design any non-sports items?
At this point Ted referred me to his father (the elder Ted’s son), who he said would be better equipped to answer these queries. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’ll post some follow-up material if and when he responds. Until then, enjoy these beautiful patent drawings and be on the lookout for other mentions of Ted Sowle in vintage equipment listings.
The advertiser I’ve always dreamed of: As you may have noticed, we now have a dedicated stirrup and sock vendor selling quality hosiery over in the left rail. That would be the aptly named Socks Rock, and I don’t mind saying this is pretty much my dream come true in terms of site sponsorship. Please welcome them aboard and give them a look. Thanks.
Bobble Shoppe Reminder: In case you missed it last week, the amazing Robert Marshall is now offering hand-casted, custom-painted bobblehead dolls to Uni Watch readers. For details, look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Our friends at Ebbets Field Flannels have started a new blog devoted to uni-related issues. Best of luck with the new venture, Jerry. … Small item buried within this column: “Man of the Weekend was Red Bulls forward John Wolyniec. As seen on MSG, the Staten Island native and former Fordham star was set to enter as a sub, Friday, when he removed his warm-up jacket to reveal a red jersey. His team, however, was wearing its white jerseys. Wolyniec quickly changed, entered” (with thanks to Joshua Paster). … Reprinted from Monday’s comments: This must have been a very odd ballgame. Additional info here. … Good find by Gabe Butler, who writes: “I was browsing on eBay this morning when I stumbled across this replica jersey for a team that played in my hometown in the late 1960s and ’70s. My dad actually played for their junior team before they folded and still has his jersey hanging up at home! Anyway, I read the thread and the guy said he got the jersey made at this site. I poked around it looks like they have some pretty cool stuff.” Indeed — worth investigating. … Those Yankees, nothing but class. … Interesting background info on the 49ers’ new sleeve stripes here (with thanks to Tim Fesmire). … Ryan Connelly recently realized one of his longtime dreams by playing — and scoring a goal! — on the Mellon Arena ice. Photos here. … And so it has come to this: The swoosh has infiltrated the Presidential sock drawer. … Y’know, there are some problems that even striped stirrups can’t solve (with thanks to Chris Chaussee). … Lots of apostrophe catastrophe action over on NHL.com (as spotted by James Huening). … The IFAF (that’s World Federation of American Football) is will be holding its Junior World Championship tournament in Canton, starting in late June. Lots of not-very-inspiring uni photos here (with thanks to Tom Pachuta). … Menswear designer Paul Smith is a cycling enthusiast, and he L.A. shop now has an exhibition of cycling jerseys. Addition info in the second graf of this story (thanks, Vince). … If you’ve always wanted to see Alex Ovechkin in a football helmet, this is your lucky day (with thanks to Ethan Crooks). … Here’s a major, major find: Over 60 photos from the Expos’ very first game (über-thanks to Jean Gagnier). … Here’s Rob Ullman’s latest, a portrait of Tyler Kulasza‘s girlfriend, Emily. Love the low-rise Chucks! … Maybe this is common knowledge, but not to me: For a while, Rick DePietro’s mask featured a depiction of Madison Square Garden (left photo, the ear panel). Apparently the mask was later sent back for a touch-up (good spot by Joe DeAngelis). … Really wonderful slideshow of vintage baseball photos here — highly recommended (big thanks to Mike Couillard). … Pricey, but
possibly probably worth it. … Nice mash note to the old Bengals identity program here. … Great article in yesterday’s Ausin American-Statesman about Len Barrell’s 1914 uniform (with thanks to Martin Kohout). … New football uniforms for South Alabama (with thanks to Doug Simpson). … New Celtic International away kit (with thanks to JK Chaney). … What happened to the ball that Bobby Thompson hit for his famous home run in 1951? We’ll never know for sure, but there’s a new book that explores the likely answer, and Ken Davidoff has written a very interesting review of it. … Uni number news for the Patriots (with thanks to Tom Adjemian). … Lots of interesting sock action and the Mid-Penn Conference Track and Field Championships (with thanks to Ryan Farrell). … Hey, guess what, some uniforms are ugly (with thanks to Brinke Guthrie). … Petersburg, Indiana, is the hometown of Gil Hodges, and now it’s also the home of a big Hodges mural. Those pics were taken by Ryan Bowman, who notes that the mural appears to show Hodges wearing a white Dodgers jersey with blue placket piping, which is a design the Dodgers never wore during Hodges’s tenure, although they did wear a road grays with that design. Further info on the mural here. … Look, it’s a bunch of new Bundesliga kits (with thanks to Alex Peerenboom). … Fun rundown of “mistaken identity” baseball cards here. … Hey, check this out: stirrups vs. stirrups! That’s Cleveland pitcher Jeremy Sowers (whose hosiery heroics were first mentioned here last week) and Corky Miller of the Chisox (whose membership in Stirrup Nation is news to me) facing each other last night. … And if that weren’t enough, Luke Hochevar made his debut with the Royals last night, and look what he was wearing. There’s definitely a little trendlet at work here — I think the hosiery pendulum may finally be ready to start swing back the other way (thanks, Phil). … Also from Phil: Alex Cora played first base in the 10th inning of last night’s Mets/Braves game and apparently didn’t have a first baseman’s glove of his own to wear. Phil breaks down the proceedings: “He warmed up with a light brown mitt, then got handed a darker brown mitt, which he didn’t like and threw back. After that, he motioned to the dugout to look for his glove and then called time as the first batter (Chipper) was stepping in. Then he jogged to the dugout and came back with a regular fielder’s glove, which he wore for the entire inning, including while holding Chipper on at first.”