The ubiquitous jockstrap was invented in 1874 by Bike Athletic for male bicyclists due to bumpy cobblestone streets at the time. They are also often (incorrectly) credited with the invention of the athletic cup as well. Yes, they made millions selling groin cups and had patents on many, but they were nowhere near first.
Men always wore some type of athletic groin cup for modern contact sports?
The modern athletic groin cup - shaped groin protector is a relatively new invention.
History records fighters and boxers wearing types of groin “shields” that may have been in a “cup shape” but often were just inserts worn and held on by clothing or tied in place. Flat leather “inserts” dating back to the beginning of boxing were often not even in a athletic cup shape, but pictures have been elusive.
Polite society didn't discuss such things and certainly didn't photograph them when that became possible. There are few published descriptions or accounts of groin protection until well into the 1900s.
The patents that would change groin protection.
One of the first recorded US patents of a modern-type athletic cup is believed to be in 1931 by Forrest M Record. A note of interest, the year prior, a patent for a ‘Blow distributing athletic protector” was issued to James P Taylor. It was not a genital cup but was inflated with air using a stem just like a tire. Very creative, but inflating it for sports would have been a challenge then, and it was never manufactured. Many companies have patented and even trademarked their groin cup products.
What about groin cups before the patents?
Baseball catcher Claude Berry is reported to have worn a steel “Safety Cup” around 1904, and it survives to this day in a museum. It is unknown if this was custom-made or widely available. Not surprisingly, hockey players also started wearing athletic cups early on.
So the athletic cups’ actual invention and use date are lost to time, and even Wikipedia is mute on the topic. The groin cup was an invention that slowly evolved out of the specific need.
All groin cups are basically the same.
No, they have evolved over time, and today's groin cups are very different.
Until about 1950, athletic cups really didn’t resemble what we would call “a cup” today. They were crude, one-size-fits-all devices that would have been terribly uncomfortable and designed largely by trial and error.
Even into the 1960s and 70s, the materials used to make athletic cups were not reliable. Former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench is reported to have broken seven athletic cups during his Hall of Fame career. But at least he remained intact!
And finally, groin protection and pelvic cups started to improve.
But by the late 1970s, things started to change rapidly.
Males finally started to get more modern pelvic protection, leading to some of the superior products we have today.
Sports Injury Researcher, United States