The Making of the Wilson NFL Football

A couple of weeks into the 2012 NFL and there’s already been a slew of injuries, surprises, upsets and drama. The NFL is a strange beast. You just don’t know what you’re going to get week-to-week.

Wilson, the Chicago-based sporting goods company, has been making the official NFL game ball since 1941. A total of 700,000 footballs are manufactured annually by Wilson, and while team dynamics, players, and even the game itself change with each season, the Wilson football does not.

At the Wilson football factory in Ada, Ohio, nothing is automated. Everything is done by hand, with two people making all the footballs for the NFL. Jane Helser, who sews the balls, has been with the factory 46 years.

The labor-intensive process begins with sewing the balls inside out. They’re then passed over to the turner who steams the leather to soften it and then turns the casing right-side out. In the Ohio factory there are seven turners who make between 400 and 600 footballs per day.

The footballs then receives a bladder and are laced up by hand. Knots are never used. Air pressure tightens the laces and holds them in place.

Finally, the balls are molded, measured, and inspected for quality. For the NFL each ball is prepared differently depending on the preference of receivers and quarterbacks. Some like the balls out of the box, while others like them brushed or worn in.

Football Trivia: How did the football get its shape?

In the early days, footballs were made from inflated pig bladders. Later versions were covered in leather skin and stitched together with laces. They were round, difficult to blow up, and varied in size game to game.

The ends of the balls became more pronounced as production methods matured. With the introduction and emphasis on the forward pass, being able to throw a tight spiral ensured the current shapes legacy and a call for standardization.

What’s your 2012 Super Bowl prediction?

About Wilson

Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods Co., is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sports equipment. The company designs, manufactures and distributes equipment that helps players improve their performance.

Wilson Sporting Goods is a PTC customer.

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