View Full Version : Fun fact: Michigan State introduced the winged helmet

12-29-2010, 09:25 AM
Winging It: Helmet History Reconsidered

Everyone knows Michigan football is famous for its winged helmet design. Many of you smartypants types also know that credit for originating the winged concept is usually given to Princeton coach Fritz Crisler, who came up with the design in 1935 and then took it with him to Michigan in 1938.

That version of the story is all over the web — on the Michigan web site, on the Princeton web site, at the Helmet Project (scroll down to the Princeton section), in this Daily Princetonian article, and so on. It’s the story I’ve always heard, and I’ve repeated it myself many times.

But now a counter-narrative has emerged. I first became aware of it a few weeks ago, when reader Chad Todd pointed me toward this Wikipedia entry. It states, “Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) debuted the winged helmet on September 30, 1933. The wings were a Michigan State College symbol two years before Herbert O. ‘Fritz’ Crisler ordered the helmets out of the Spalding catalog for Princeton University, and five years before they were introduced at University of Michigan.”

That was news to me, so I started doing a little digging. The Wikipedia claim appeared to be based on this Michigan State fan page. As you can see if you click on the photos on the right-hand side of the page, the Michigan State helmets aren’t exactly the same winged design we’re used to seeing — they have fewer stripes (sometimes none at all). But the winged crown is recognizable enough. Pretty convincing stuff.

So why has the Princeton/Crisler narrative become the party line over the years, and why has Michigan State been omitted from that narrative? To help answer those questions, I got in touch with Eric Greenwald, who runs that fan page. He and I ended up having several back-and-forths via e-mail. Here are edited versions of some of the questions I asked him and the answers he provided:


cliffs: MSU debuted the winged helmet in 1933
Fritz Crisler ordered a winged helmet from a Spalding catalog at Princeton in 1935
Crisler brought the design to UM in 1940
Doom on you, "Tradition"


12-29-2010, 09:34 AM