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Bell Helmets: An American Legacy




Former animal trapper and fish cannery worker George Wight opens Bell Auto Parts at 3633 East Gage Avenue, in Bell, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.
The Golden Age of Richter Race Cars. Richter-built cars win numerous championships, hundreds of races and set countless track records in several racing divisions.
On July 2nd, Roy Richter purchases Bell Auto Parts. He sells his car and invests his life savings of $1,000.
Bell begins manufacturing its first helmet - the '500' - in a garage located behind Bell Auto Parts. Several members of the Lincoln Team, including 1953 and 1954 Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich, wear the helmet during the Carrera Pan-American road race in Mexico.

Cal Niday becomes the first driver to wear a Bell Helmet in the Indy 500. On the 170th lap, Niday crashes hard into a wall. He credits the helmet with saving him from more serious injury.

The Los Angeles Police Department requires helmets for its motorcycle officers. Bell would eventually supply helmets to more than 800 police departments.

The first Snell Memorial Foundation Standards are released and Bell becomes the first company to pass.

Bell's helmet line expands to nine styles. In addition to auto racing helmets, models are also offered for hockey, skiing, skydiving, baseball, football, and police and fire use. The ski helmet is adaptable for bicycle racing.

Parnelli Jones wears a Bell in his Indy 500 win and Jim Clark becomes Bell's first World Driving Champion. The attendant publicity, with the Bell logo being seen all over the world, was invaluable. At this time the only money paid to drivers was in the form of a contingency to race winners - the only way to get paid, was to win.

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On January 1st, Evil Knievel crashes while attempting to jump the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. When he awakens from a 28-day coma, he credits his Bell helmet with helping save his life
Unique in motor racing history, all 33 drivers at each of USAC's 500-mile championship races - Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario - wear Bell helmets.
Roy Richter retires. The 63-year-old is presented with a Yamaha trials bike by his employees, to ensure his retirement isn't too quiet.

William Zimmerman (President of Zimmerman Holdings) and James Marshall Galbraith (a noted legal mind and business author) purchase Bell Helmets, Inc. and Riddell, Inc. (makers of football helmets) and form Bell-Riddell Inc.
July 28th, Roy Richter dies, following complications during his second heart bypass surgery.
Bell introduces the V1 Pro, the first helmet developed specifically for bicycle racing - initial shipments to dealers sell out within 14 days. Bell becomes official supplier to the US Cycling Team.

Bell manufactures its one-millionth bike helmet! Mario and Michael Andretti join the Bell Auto team.
Microshell technology, a thin composite skin over the foam liner is introduced on the Ovation, vastly improving the look of bike helmets. Internal reinforcement rings are brought in, to help withstand multiple impacts.
Bell introduces one of the most important innovations in the history of bike helmet design. The In-Mold Microshell bonding process heat seals the liner to the Microshell for better structural integrity and durability. Within 10 years, all high- end bike helmets are made this way.

The Bell Evo Pro
Mountain biking makes its inaugural appearance in the Olympic games and Bart Brentjens of the Netherlands wins the men's gold medal wearing a Bell Psycho Pro.
 
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sets a bicycle helmet standard that becomes law in the USA. Any helmet not meeting CPSC requirements are now illegal to sell. Bell - who had been instrumental in setting the standard and even campaigned for it to be stricter for under-5 child helmets - is the first company to pass.

Roy Richter graduates high school and goes to work for George Wight as a pattern maker. He takes up auto racing, driving his friend's Model T.

Roy Richter builds the Bell Special, a midget race car dubbed "Betsy" that is built from parts found in Bell's junkyard. It was the first of many Richter-built race cars and the one he would attempt a short professional auto racing career with. While Roy showed talent as a racer, he realized his calling was designing and building cars and racing products.

Roy's long-time friend, 'Swede' Lindskog is killed in a racing accident. It is Roy's second close friend to die while racing. He makes a commitment to work toward creating safer racing products.

The first Bonneville National Speed Trials are held at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. Bell is there with a truckload of spare parts and a large tent to provide shade for the contestants. Dubbed the "Palm Tree" the tent would be a fixture at Bonneville for the next 30 years.

With helmet sales above original projections, the Bell Helmet Company is formed as a division of Bell Auto Parts.

Bell becomes official supplier to the US Ski Team.

The 500-TX is selected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for Excellence of Design. Four Bell helmet models are on continuous display at MoMA.

Bell develops the first full-face motorcycle helmet.

The Snell Foundation introduces a bicycle standard. It is so strict that only motorbike helmets will pass, and would be appended in 1973--along with the first ski and equestrian standards--to become the 1970 Standard for Protective Headgear.

Roy Richter is inducted into the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Hall of Fame.

The first truly effective bicycle helmet - the Bell Biker - is introduced after two years of prototyping. The first bike helmet with a full expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner, this became the standard by which other bike helmets were measured. Variations on this style would be around for a decade.

Bell introduces products for anti-ballistic military and law enforcement use.

Terry Lee joins Bell Helmets. Under his leadership the company will shift its focus from helmets for motorcycling to bicycling and diversify its business through the aquisition of several companies including Blackburn, Vistalite and Rhode Gear.

Bell introduces the Li'l Bell Shell for toddlers. The revolutionary design eschews the outer shell in favor of a thick, super protective all-EPS design. Within two years this idea would be taken up by the industry and used in adult helmets as well. The Li'l Bell Shell would remain the most popular toddler helmet for the next 17 years.

Bell develops the Pursuit - the first aerodynamic helmet fairing - for use by the US Cycling Team.

Bell sponsors mountain bike racer John Tomac who would go on to win numerous national and international titles over a remarkable professional career. Bell's relationship with the mountain bike icon spans 15 years and continues today.

Michel Vaarten of Belgium is the first World Champion to wear a cycling helmet.

Bell's motorcycle division is sold to Tom Doran (Vice President of Bell Helmets) and becomes Bell Helmets, Inc. The remaining company is renamed Bell Sports, Inc.

Bell's commitment to racing is evident in their presence at races across the US. Its 18-wheeler, known simply as the "Big Rig," features a museum of Bell racing heritage, a rooftop viewing stand and an immense awning, reminiscent of the "Palm Tree" that Bell brought to Bonneville from 1949-79.

Bell receives the highest honor from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the Champion Award. Bell's long-term relationship with SAFE KIDS dates back to 1990 and continues today.

Bell introduces GPS--Geared Positioning System--an intuitive fit system that adjusts with a dial to a custom fit. It is available on the top-of-the-line X-Ray and Phi Pro helmets.