How It Works

Why are rugby balls oval, not round?

The rugby ball was not always oval shaped. Early rugby balls were made out of inflated pig’s bladders, encased in leather and hand-stitched. The smelly bladders had to be inflated by lung power alone and therefore the balls varied in size – they were more plum-shaped than oval. In 1870 Richard Lindon invented an inflatable rubber bladder and a brass hand pump. Because of the stretchy rubber the shape gradually changed from a sphere to an oval. Over the years, the shape has changed slightly to make the ball more streamlined for passing and easier to hold.

Claudia Velhas, Science Museum

  • Does this explanation also hold true for the similarly-shaped American football?

  • Claudia Velhas

    Hi PurpleRanger,

    I believe you’re right. The american football developed from the rugby ball, so it was also originally made with pig’s bladder. It is slightly more pointed at the ends to facilitate the forward pass.