Company History old

History of Gilman Gear

The spirit of innovation is what prompted Marty Gilman to found the company in 1929.  Back then there were no blocking sleds or dummies. The techniques of blocking and tackling were practiced during full contact drills. Injuries were rampant.  Marty, a “watch charm” guard for the UCONN Huskies, back in the day when helmets had no face guards, had a better idea. Marty built the first blocking dummy which at the time was called a blocking pyramid. Marty was fortunate that his parents built one of the first textile mills in New England. The mill generated the cotton fiber to stuff the dummies. The quilting department cut and stitched the canvas cover of the dummy. The mechanics forged a round ballast for the bottom of the dummy from an iron cauldron. From the Gilman Mill emerged the first of its kind, the pop-up tackling dummy. This became such a sensation in the football world, that movie theaters at the time featured newsreels of Marty and his work crew building the dummy in the Gilman mill and then Marty donned a football uniform and demonstrated how to execute a tackle on his invention. Marty went on the invent the first steel blocking and tackling sled and a line of air-filled blocking shields called “Pushbacks.” Marty took his dummies on the road with a missionary zeal to advocate for the use of such products and demonstrate how coaches could better teach the fundamentals of the game by using his field equipment. The Who’s Who of American Football Coaches were his first customers. Such names as Pop Warner, Amos Alonso Stagg, Knute Rockne, Earl “Red” Blaik, Frank Leahy, Dana Bible, Robert Neyland, Fritz Crisler, Pappy Waldorf, Ducky Pond, Woody Hayes and many others.  Marty pioneered the development of football practice equipment and created the industry that now exists.  Many of his trademarks became synonymous with the product itself i.e., Tackleback, Pushback and Comeback. A second generation of Gilman ingenuity was introduced by Marty’s son, Neil Gilman, the current President & CEO of Gilman Gear. Under Marty’s tutelage, Neil learned all aspects of the business from the ground up by working in the factory and going on the road to listen to coaches and cultivate relationships. Neil is responsible for diversifying the company from its original core business of football equipment by developing product lines for Lacrosse, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, Wrestling and Strength & Conditioning. Neil expanded the sales of the core football business by hiring a national team of sales reps, negotiating a licensing agreement with the NFL and by setting up international distributors in Japan and Europe. Neil coined the company’s slogan, “Always A Step Ahead” and has personally contributed to the company’s history of innovation by introducing 26 new patents and several Trademarks to the company’s list of intellectual property. Among his signal accomplishments:

2015: The Roll Tackle Ring. In response to the growing concern over concussions that threatened the popularity of the game of football, Neil designed and brought to the market the Roll Tackle Ring.  It ushered in a new and safer technique of “roll” tackling which was quickly adopted by all levels of football. The Tackle Ring is now an indispensable part of every football practice field across the U.S.

2016: The Lacrosse Goal. In response to coach’s complaints about the drudgery of stringing Lacrosse Goals, Neil designed and brought to the market a Goal that eliminated stringing. The added benefit of the new design was a distinctive “ping” the Goal made when the ball struck the net. The Gilman “ping” Goal is the rage of the Lacrosse market making it the hottest selling Goal in the U.S.

2015: The Pylon Cam. In response to the major broadcast TV networks wanting to capture ground level video from critical areas of the field, such as the Goal Line, the End Zone and the Sideline, Gilman teamed up with ESPN to introduce the Pylon Cam. Outfitted with high-definition and wide-angle cameras, the video feed can be replayed with stop action and slow motion detail. The Pylon Cam is now used for Instant Replay reviews to corroborate or overturn a decision on the field.  It is now an indispensable part of every NFL and College Game Day broadcast.

When COVID rampaged across the US in 2020, leading to business shutdowns and mass employment layoffs, Neil quickly pivoted to manufacturing PPE including a line of Isolation and Surgical Gowns. COVID had a devastating impact on the sporting goods industry because sports teams on every level were shut down and games cancelled. By re-purposing one of his factories to making PPE, Neil was able to keep all his employees gainfully employed while at the same time contributing to the health and safety of front-line medical professionals.

A Harvard graduate with a BA in American History, Neil was a member of the football team at Harvard and wrote for the Harvard Independent.