The Making of an NFL Football Is a Time Honored Process

The manufacturing process for NFL footballs has remained largely unchanged for 75 years.

If you are a football player, coach or even a fan, you may have wondered how footballs are made. Well, the manufacturing of leather footballs has not changed much over the years. Technology has sped up the process no doubt, but the NFL game balls are still individually hand sewn.

Footballs - Sammy Baugh 1942

Washington Redskin quarterback Sammy Baugh 1942

The Wilson Sporting Goods factory in Ada, Ohio has been making footballs for the NFL since 1941 and in fact is the only factory in the United States dedicated to making footballs only. The quality craftsmanship, including top leather, hand-sewn, lock-stich seams and performance of the ball convinced the NFL back in those days to adopt the Wilson football as the official ball of the NFL and that has remained the same every since.

The term “pigskin” is a misnomer as each game ball is made of cowhide. The original footballs though, were made using a pig’s bladder; now a rubber bladder is used. One cowhide is large enough to produce 10 footballs each.

Footballs - Wilson

Wilson stands tall in Ada, Ohio

The Wilson staff cut the highest quality cowhide panels, sew the panels inside out, steam them soft enough to turn, and lace precise enough to allow the ball to fly in tight spirals.

The 130 employees at the current plant, which was built in 1955, turn out 700,000 footballs every year.

Every year each NFL team receives a total of 108 game balls from Wilson, 54 for practice and 54 for the game. And each ball is inflated to a pressure of 13 psi (pounds per square inch). Each of these footballs has 4 panels and with 16 lace holes, one single lace is used.

Footballs - old Duke

Footballs have not changed that much in 75 years

For Super Bowl, the number rises as there are a total of 120 footballs used during a Super Bowl game, including 12 for kickers.
The Wilson staff are amazingly loyal and dedicated. In fact, each employee works for an average of 20 years at the plant in Ada.

Jane Helser recently retired after working for nearly 50 years at the factory, the source of the NFL’s handmade footballs. Listen to her story below.

Inside the Wilson Football Factory

Produced by: Vijai Singh and Ashley Maas

Read the New York Times story of how Jane Helser made footballs almost as long as Wilson has been making NFL footballs.

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
Skip to toolbar