The History of Spalding

Spalding, founded by Albert Spalding in 1876, is an American sports equipment manufacturing company in Chicago, although its headquarters is now in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Spalding focuses on basketball, primally producing balls and commercializing nets, rims, ball pump needles, and hoops. Softballs are commercialized through Spalding’s subsidiary Dudley Sports.

Before, Spalding manufactured other sports balls, such as volleyball, soccer, golf, American football, and baseball. For a short time in the 80s, Spalding also designed aftermarket automotive wheels.

Spalding was established in 1876 when Albert Spalding was a manager and pitcher of the Chicago White Stockings, a baseball team in Chicago. The company developed the modern baseball bat with its bulge at the apex and systematized early baseballs. Spalding bought A. J. Reach and Wright & Ditson, both competing sporting goods companies in 1892.

In 1893, the Lamb Knitting Machine Company, established in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, was bought by A.G. Spalding & Brothers and renamed Lamb Manufacturing Company. The company used the purchase to consolidate the gymnasium goods manufactory from Philadelphia and skate manufactory from Newark to the Chicopee plant. Lamb, mainly engaged in manufacturing rifles, egg-beaters, and knitting machines, had been fulfilling a deal since 1890 to manufacture the Credenda bicycle wheel for Spalding. Spalding picked Chicopee since it was home to the Overman Wheel Company. He served as their distributor in the Western United States, and Overman negotiated with Lamb to produce wheels for its lower-end products.

Since 1880, Spalding’s “League Ball” was adopted ad used by the National League and the American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs for the 1892–1896 seasons. It was manufactured by A. G. Spalding & Bros., New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago in 1896 and sold for $1.50.

Bicycle production remained at the Chicopee plant through the latter portion of the 19th century. Still, A.G. Ben Spalding had sold its bicycle division to an enormous trust called the American Bicycle Company, which dominated 65% of the bicycle business in the United States.

Spalding watch and belt

By 1990, Spalding was selling pinch bags for boxing, dumbbells, and Indian clubs. Spalding was selling a wide assortment of sports-related items, such as golf clubs, barbells, measuring tapes, guy robes, rowing machines, pulleys and weights, fencing blades and foils, whistles, clothing (sports jerseys, sports jackets, athletic shirts, sports pants, pads, swimming suits, belts, and sports shoes), and track equipment (javelins, shot puts, stopwatches, discus, hammers, and hurdles).

The company merged five other firms to develop the New England Small Arms Corporation during World War II to manufacture M1918 Browning Automatic Rifles.

From the beginning of the 1930s through the middle of the 1940s, Spalding manufactured the National Hockey League’s official game pucks. The company produced the famous “Spaldeen” high-bounce rubber ball, stated to be a re-use of faulty tennis ball cores sold to city kids from 1949. In baseball, Spalding made the official ball of the major leagues throughout the 1976 season, stamping the Spalding trademark on National League balls and the Reach brand on American League balls. Rawlings has produced the official ball since 1977.

From 1981, Spalding created a line of aftermarket automotive wheels classified as the “Message” series in a partnership with Japan’s Toyo Rubber Company. The Message II, one of the wheels reportedly described by Spalding as similar to a “steam locomotive piston,” which bagged awards from publications like Motorfan Magazine as the reader’s overall choice and best spoke type wheel. Wheels carrying the Spalding name are identified to have been produced through to at least 1986.

In 2003, Spalding developed into a division of the Russell Corporation. However, that deal didn’t cover Spalding’s golf operations, including the Ben Hogan, Strata, and Top-Flite brands, which Callaway later bought in the same year. Spalding gets its leather supplies for the indoor Arena Football League footballs from Horween Leather Company.

Spalding created its first basketball from the design of a baseball in 1894 and is, at this moment, a leading manufacturer. The company became the National Basketball Association’s official ball supplier from the 1983 to 2019-20 season, when the league entered a partnership with Wilson. Spalding also produced the official ball of an indoor American football league, the Arena Football League, until its shutdown in 2019. The company was also among the first to employ high-profile athletes to promote its products when Pancho Gonzales, a tennis player, signed an exclusive endorsement deal in 1951.

In 2006, the NBA and Spalding announced that they would produce a brand-new NBA Official Game Ball for the 2006-07 NBA season, created with a synthetic material rather than leather and interlocking segments. However, numerous NBA players lamented that the new composite ball cut their fingers, wouldn’t bounce as high, became very slick after use, and bounced awkwardly off the backboard and rim. As a result, on January 1, 2007,  the NBA went back to the old leather balls (with the traditional eight-panel pattern).