Hut! Hut! Hike! Go long and get ready to soar into the air to catch a flying pigskin for a touchdown.

That’s right, folks. It’s football season again. In America, that means it’s time for high school games under the lights on Friday nights, college games throughout the day on Saturday and professional games on Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening and Monday night, too!

If you’ve watched much football, you’ve probably heard the ball referred to as a “pigskin” many times. But if you’ve ever played with a real football, you probably know it feels like leather. So what’s the story?

As it turns out, the earliest form of the ball we now know as a football was more like what Americans now call a “soccer ball.” Of course, most of the rest of the world still refers to soccer balls as “footballs.”

These early round balls were made of inflated pig bladders. This is why footballs got the nickname “pigskins.”

The earliest games of football featured mobs from opposing villages attempting to kick an inflated pig bladder into the balcony of their opponents’ church!

Why pig bladders? Before rubber was invented, animal bladders were easy to get. They were basically round, lightweight, easily inflated and fairly durable.

The oldest football ever found was made in the 1540s. It consists of a pig bladder covered with pieces of leather, possibly from a deer. It was found in 1981 at Stirling Castle in Scotland.

Of course, it wasn’t always the most pleasant task to blow up a pig bladder to use as a football. So when rubber was invented in the mid-1800s, pig bladders took a back seat to inflated rubber balls.

Eventually, leather coverings were added to strengthen the balls and make them easier to handle.

The shape of the football eventually changed from a round ball to its current elliptical shape with pointed ends (also known as a prolate spheroid). The new shape allowed the ball to be thrown farther with a forward pass.

Modern footballs are about 12 inches (one “foot”) long and about 22 inches in circumference (around) at the center. Many people wonder why they’re called “footballs” when most of the game is played with the hands.

Even though footballs are kicked occasionally during a game, the name most likely arises from the fact that the game has always been played on foot rather than on horseback, like the game of polo that was more popular at that time.

Modern footballs used in college games and professional leagues are made of leather. Footballs still have an internal bladder, but today they’re made of polyurethane or rubber.

Laces hold the leather panels of the football together and provide a good grip for throwing the ball. Manufacturers also usually stamp the leather panels with a grain-like texture to help players hang onto the ball.

 

55 Join the Discussion

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  1. Wow those are some great facts!

    I had no idea that footballs were made inflated pig bladders. One of my friends went to Stirling Castle over the summer and he never heard of that wacky story. What did they use to inflate the pig bladder?

    • Hi, Kyle! We’re so glad you learned some new facts about footballs from this Wonder! We’re not sure how they used to inflate pig bladders before the invention of air pumps, but we think they probably blew them up like a balloons! Thanks for commenting today! :-)

  2. Wow, I can’t believe that the first football was made in 1540, but wasn’t discovered until hundreds of years later. It’s amazing how much the game of football has changed over time.

    • It sure has changed a lot, hasn’t it, Josh? Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and sharing what you learned from this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. NEAT!! We wondered why a football was called a pigskin, and now we know. It was a little gross to think of playing with a pig’s bladder and we wondered how they would inflate it. Either way, we are gratetful for the changes and that today we have footballs. :)

    • We agree that today’s footballs are something to be grateful for compared to the footballs of long ago, Kerrick Elementary School! We’re glad you WONDERed about why footballs were called “pigskins” and explored this Wonder to find out! :-)

  4. Hi wonderopolis,

    I read the selection about how footballs are made and what they are made of. I think that footballs used to be made of inflated pig bladders!!!!! I play quarterback in football and I wouldn’t like throwing a inflated pig bladder. I learned two words in the article which were polyurethane and prolate spheroid. Thank you for having this really good and cool information to share with me and others.
    team unger,
    #23

    • Thank YOU for letting us know you enjoyed learning about “pigskins” in Wonderopolis today, Team Unger #23! We agree…we’re not sure we would like to throw (or catch!) an inflated pig bladder! We’re thankful for technology that helped create the modern-day football! :-)

  5. That is so sick and sad I will never touch a football again it’s bad enough they are eaten but killed to turn their skin into a football that is so sad. :(

    • Hi there, Nakia! We are sorry to hear that learning about the origins of the football made your stomach turn! We hope you enjoyed reading the entire Wonder– we learned that originally pigs were involved with the creation of the football, but now the ball is made of rubber and leather. However, the name “pigskin” has stuck! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Deaci! We’re sorry to hear that our football Wonder made your skin crawl (it’s okay, you’re not alone!)

      However, rest assured that the football we play with today is made of leather now! :)

  6. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We did not know that the Wilson factory is in Ada, Ohio! My mom says we don’t live too far from there, so she is going to see if we can go there and see footballs being made.

    I like this wonder because I play football and I saw how footballs were made. I think it is funny that footballs used to be made from pig bladders. My mom thinks it is gross.

    Eli

    • WOW, a field trip?! That sounds like a very cool way to spend your time WONDERing, Eli! Good thing footballs are no longer made like they used to be… we bet it would be a very different game if they still were made with pig bladders! :)

  7. Hey wonderopolis,
    I learned some great things today like that the oldest football ever found was in the 1540’s and what a prolate spheroid is. I’d also like to learn more about polo? I know that lineman are colossal but who was the largest lineman? Thanks for the wonder.

    Stephen

    • TOUCHDOWN for Garrett, this Wonder was as awesome as a 4th down! Thanks for sharing your comment with us– we hope to Wonder with you again soon! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Minecraft Butter! You’ve learned something cool and new about the very football the Detroit Lions use! :)

    • Great question, Wonder Friend James! Today’s footballs are made of leather, which can be made from a number of different animals, or even made in a factory. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  8. Gross! I never knew footballs were made of animal parts. I am glad rubber was made so it will not be gross to play football because it is my 2nd favorite sport. Can you make your next post on how you get your ideas? I hope you do!

    • We’re on the same page, Wonder Friend Chris! It’s interesting to learn about the origin of one of your favorite sports, but we’re glad there are no pigs involved today! :)

    • We think football is great too, Aidan! Great question about the use of pigskin! They used the bladder… ewww… of the pig, because it was basically round, lightweight, easily inflated and fairly durable. Keep WONDERing, Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Not really, Gauge. We prefer a football made out of leather. What about you? Which would you prefer? Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friend!

    • Great Question, Antonio! They probably do have to wash it really good before making it into a football. Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend! :-)

  9. Cody in 2013 I went to this football place for four days it was fun and ruff it was a fun day on the fourth day we got hotdogs and hamburgs.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Are footballs really made of pigskin?
  • Why are they called “footballs”?
  • What are modern footballs made of?

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Try It Out

Ready for game day? Guess what? ANY day can be game day! Just grab some fellow players and head outside to play.

If you’re a football fan, grab the ol’ pigskin and play flag football. In flag football, you “tackle” an opponent by grabbing flags around his or her waist rather than forcing him or her to the ground.

You can tuck handkerchiefs into your pockets to use as flags. If you want to learn more about flag football, check out How To Play Flag Football.

If you don’t enjoy football or the weather isn’t cooperating, you can still enjoy some family fun indoors. Grab a few coins and get ready to face off in a game of Penny Football!

 

Still Wondering

Explore the connections between mathematics and football in Illuminations’ Get the Picture — Get the Story lesson.

 

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