Thayer’s Invention

John Nelson’s photograph of a baseball game includes a catcher with face mask in the left foreground. NSHS RG3542:PH:097-12 

The catcher’s mask in baseball was invented by Frederick W. Thayer, a Harvard baseball player, who once played the game in Omaha. He modified a fencing mask which enabled the catcher to move closer to home base and receive the ball without fear of being struck in the face. Thayer received a patent for his invention early in 1878. Later in the year, A. G. Spalding and Brothers Company, the leading American sporting goods dealer, began selling the Thayer Catcher’s Mask for $3. In 1883 Thayer sued Spalding for patent infringement, and Spalding was ultimately forced to pay royalties.

The Omaha Daily Bee on April 6, 1886, noted Thayer’s recent patent victory and recalled his baseball days in Omaha: “Old ball players in Omaha and lovers of the sport, who have watched the game for the last seven years, will remember the first professional nine organized in this city in the fall of 1879. . . . In two of the most important games played the nine was reinforced by a clerk from the B & M headquarters, Fred Thayer, whose brilliant fielding and tremendous batting elicited tumultuous applause from the audience. Thayer was the famous captain of the Harvard university nine of ’76 and ’77, and is now brought into prominence through being the winner of a heavy patent suit, involving the invention of the catchers’ masks.

“The Globe of Boston, tells the story as follows: No catcher thinks of playing behind the bat now without having his head encased in a mask. . . . Comparatively few people who are interested in the national game to-day, know that professionals owe this necessary implement of warfare to an amateur. It was conceived in the ingenious brain of a Harvard college student, who was one of the best players in his day, and probably as good a captain as the University nine ever had.

“In the winter of ’76 and ’77 the candidates for the Harvard nine were practicing as usual in the old round gymnasium, and Captain Fred Thayer was training them. Harold Ernst, the greatest pitcher the Harvard nine ever had until Nichols made his debut, was to do the pitching, and Jim Tyng was expected to catch him. Although straight arm pitching was still in vogue, Ernst had a remarkable swift delivery, and after awhile Tyng informed Captain Thayer that he would not catch such pitching unless he could have some contrivance to protect his face. . . . Various experiments were tried, and finally he [Thayer] completed a rude but satisfactory protection for Tyng’s phvsiognomy.”

This first catcher’s mask was “a cumbersome affair and resembled a fencing mask. . . . Before the mask came into use there was many a broken nose among the catchers, but now [1886] the only injury is a slight cut from an occasional broken wire.”


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.