What Are Footballs Made Of? Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: January 12, 2024

Football has evolved since it was first introduced in the early 1900s. A common misconception is that it’s made out of pigskin. What are footballs really made of?

Footballs are made from either cowhide or vulcanized rubber. They are then encased in a leather shell, and the lacings are then stitched.

In this article, we’re going to show you what are footballs made of and how they are made.

What Are Footballs Made Of?

Footballs today are made out of a synthetic rubber bladder and a leather casing.

It wasn’t always that way though.

The earliest form of football was a round ball made out of inflated pig bladders (similar shape of soccer balls). They were easy to get a hold of and inflate. People started to cover the pig bladder with leather to form a ball that somewhat resembled what we know today.

It wasn’t until the ball took the shape of a present day rugby ball, so players could successfully throw it forward.

This is where the term “throwing the pig skin” game from. Technically they were throwing the pig’s bladder but this is where the term is derived from. The modern football is manufactured today without the inflated pig’s bladder.

When rubber was first mass manufactured in the 1800s, footballs were made primarily of rubber. The rubber football would then be covered in leather (much like the original) to ensure a better grip as the forward pass evolved.

The football measures a foot long (12”) and is shaped like a sphere with pointed edges. As mentioned above, as the forward pass evolved, so did the football. It was initially more rounded (much like a rugby ball) but was reduced in size and shape to what we have today.

From Popular Mechanics :

In 1920, 28 years after William “Pudge” Heffelfinger became the first professional football player, the American Professional Football Association was formed, and the Spalding J5-V was named the official ball of the league. In 1922, the league was renamed the National Football League. And, in the 1930s, the Spalding J5-V began to be known as “The Duke,” which was the boyhood nickname of Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants.

In 1935, the NFL shortened the ball’s short axis to between 21-1/4 and 21-1/2 in. The ball’s length was shortened that year to between 11 and 11-1/4 in., and the amount of air that it could hold was set at 12.5 to 13.5 psi. Its long axis of 28 to 28-1/2 in., however, did not change. These dimensions remain today, as does the ball’s shape, which has been called a “prolate spheroid” since 1890.

Here is a great video to show how it’s made:

How The Football Is Made

The football size and dimensions have become a critical part of how the game has advanced. The smaller shape – great pocket passers were born, which continue to push the ball downfield today.

As shown in the video above, footballs are seamed, stitched, and softened inside out. A worker will flip the ball inside out using their hands before filling it with a polyurethane bladder.

The footballs are then laced and re-heated to take the proper shape.

How Big Is A Football?

American football

The size of the football changes based on the age group. Modern footballs are not round soccer balls or rugby balls anymore like they used to be. They have pointed ends and are sized to fit the hand of the players that throw them.

Football sizes get bigger as players go from youth to the pros. This is different from other sports, in which the main ball in play remains the same size regardless of age

As mentioned, football is a unique sport because the football must fit the hand size of the age group using it. To ask a youth athlete to throw a pro football downfield is unrealistic.

Here’s a list of the most popular size footballs:

Youth Football Size

Weight: 10 ounces

Long Circumference: 24 inches

Short Circumference: 17.5 inches

The youth football is awkward to the standard adult, as the laces stick out more than a regular football. This type of football gives the youth a chance to grip and throw the football effectively.

If a youth athlete were trying to throw an NFL football that weighs 15 ounces, they would need two hands. The ball would go roughly 5 yards from the limited amount of force behind it.

Different youth organizations began to instill regulations on which size football should be used based on the hand size and the ability to throw the ball downfield for each level.

Middle School Football Size

Weight: 12.5 ounces

Long Circumference: 26.25 inches

Short Circumference: 19.25 inches

Middle school footballs are slightly bigger than youth footballs. They’re a bit longer and have less girth than a traditional college or NFL football.

High School & College Football Size

Weight: 14-15 Ounces

Long Circumference: 27.75 to 28.5 inches

Short Circumference: 20.75 to 21.125 inches

High School and college footballs share the same weight and circumference. The transition for a quarterback, center, running back, or receiver going from high school football to college football is seamless because of these specifications.

Made with a leather cover, the air inside can typically be inflated to feel harder or deflated to be softer for smaller hands.

The Ultimate Football Guide

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NFL Football Size

Weight: 14-15 Ounces

Long Circumference: 28 inches

Short Circumference: 21.5 inches

The NFL football is the king of all footballs. Its official maker (Wilson ) has been making NFL footballs for 75 years. The ball is slightly bigger than college football, however, there is no drastic difference.

The modern football is stretched out, laced up, and hand stuffed for each game.

wilson football
via Adweek

The NFL ball-making process is an interesting process that has a rich history.

Wilson, founded in 1913, has a manufacturing plant in Ada, Ohio, where it manufactures every football. Wilson currently staffs over 120 employees who help make 4,000 footballs a day!

The leather of the ball is originally cut, shaped, then stamped with the company’s logo. The leather is then stitched together at the seams and

The laces of the football were originally used to seal the pig bladder that was encased inside the football. In today’s footballs, the laces are used for the quarterback to gain a grip and ultimately spin the ball down the field.

Keep Learning

Don’t stop here learning about American football sizes! Learn more about the game of football and instantly increase your football IQ with our Ultimate Football Guide.

Do you have any questions about football? Do you think the NFL should use a bigger (or a smaller ball)? Should the ball be regulated to one size? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Like learning football? Learn the complete game of football by taking our courses which can be found here.

*via https://www.biggameusa.com/the-playbook/pee-wee-to-college-football-sizes.html

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.

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