||THE LOUISVILLE SLUGGER
A BRIEF HISTORY
J. Frederick Hillerich emigrated with his
family from Baden-Baden, Germany to the United States in 1842 living for a time in Baltimore,
then settling permanently in Louisville, Kentucky where he started a cooperage (barrel making)
and woodworking business in 1856.
The business, "J.F. Hillerich, Job Turning" made a variety of rounded wooden objects, including
roller skids, handrails, porch columns, balusters, bed posts, bowling pins, wooden bowling balls
and a patented butter churn.
In 1880, J. Frederic's son, 14-year-old John "Bud" Hillerich, became an apprentice at his father's shop.
It was Bud's entry into the family business that ultimately resulted in the Hillerichs' most famous enterprise.
A baseball fan, Bud skipped out of work one day in 1884 to watch a Louisville Eclipse game.
The Eclipse played in the American Association (the forerunner of the National League).
One of its most prominent players was Pete Browning.
During the game, Browning broke his favorite bat, a fairly significant setback in a day
when bats were hard to come by, expensive to make, and most players owned only one.
After the game, Bud approached Browning and offered to make him a new bat. The two men went back
to Hillerich's shop and worked through the night to turn a branch of white ash into a bat custom-designed
to Browning's preferences.
As Hillerich turned the wood on his lathe, Browning watched over his shoulder, periodically testing it for
weight and swing.
The next day, Browning went three-for-three with his new bat.
As you can imagine, word spread, other Louisville players began approaching Bud with their own bat orders.
His father, however, was unenthusiastic. Perceiving his son's new product as a trivial sideline, he preferred
focusing on their established line of products.
Nevertheless, Bud continued producing his bats, which came to be known as "Falls City Sluggers." Soon, there
was a demand for Bud's bats even outside the professional leagues, and in 1890, a hardware company in St. Louis
agreed to handle all bat sales except those to professional players.
In 1894, Hillerich changed the name of his bats to "Louisville Slugger", and registering the new name as an official trademark.
Continuing to turn out bats that were customized to each individual player's preferences, he also began branding the player's name
on his bat. This allowed the player to readily distinguish his own bat from others.
In 1897, the now 31-year-old Bud became a partner in his father's business,
and the company's name was changed to "J.F. Hillerich & Son".
Sales got an additional boost in 1905, when Honus Wagner, the great shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates,
gave Hillerich & Son the right to use his autograph on their bats. Ty Cobb signed a similar agreement in 1908.
A NEW PARTNER
The Hillerichs faced a serious setback in 1910,
when their bat factory caught fire. During the rebuilding process, the two men hired Frank Bradsby
to oversee company sales.
A skilled salesman, it did not take Bradsby long to make his mark within the growing business.
In 1916, his efforts won him a partnership, and the company's name was changed to "Hillerich & Bradsby Company".
Bradsby was a golf lover, who believed that the sport would soon become popular in the United States.
Under his influence, H & B entered the golf equipment market.
In 1954 the company purchased Larimer and Norton Inc., a lumber company in Pennsylvania,
insuring an adequate supply of lumber for its entire line of products.
The company then diversified into manufacturing croquet sets, pool tables, and hockey sticks
as well as golf clubs.
The Aluminum Revolution
In 1969, an important change began taking place in baseball.
Although the professional players were still using wooden bats, large numbers of amateur players were turning to aluminum,
a material that was thought to be not only safer, but more durable and more economical.
Hillerich & Bradsby did not immediately jump on the aluminum bandwagon.
As the 1970's wound down, the demand for wooden bats decreased significantly. Although the bulk of major
league players still used Louisville Sluggers, their use outside the majors had dwindled.
There was simply no fighting the popularity of aluminum, and in 1978, Hillerich & Bradsby accepted
the inevitable, buying the California supplier that had previously produced its aluminum bats on contract.
The delay in getting serious about aluminum left H & B playing catch-up with their conpetitors.
Solution: Develope a better aluminum bat
The company started talking to players who used aluminum bats, obtaining feedback they could use in their design process.
Pouring money into research and development, H & B began making important innovations.
One involved changing the grip surface on the bat handle thereby giving the batter better control.
Others included weighted-end designs, pressurized air chambers inside the bat barrels, and thinner bat walls using newly developed super-strong alloys.
By the start of the 1990's,
their aluminum bat business had significantly improved.
In 1996, H & B opened a new and larger facility in Louisville. The company's new complex includes a Louisville Slugger
Museum, complete with a 120-foot-tall bat.
Professional baseball players continue to have their bats custom made at the firm's facility which is located not far
from the spot where Bud made the very first bats back in the 1884.
In 2009, Hillerich & Bradsby will celebrate 125 years of bat-making success.
The Hillerich & Bradsby Factory and Museum
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|News You Can Use by Spero Speropoulos, Re/Max Team 2000,
www.SperoSells.com; portions reprinted with permission
Funding Universe company histories
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory,
| "I don't want to make the wrong mistake".....Yogi Berra