Today’s post comes from Saba Samy, an intern at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

On April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt (“Jackie”) Robinson made his debut in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Robinson also won the Rookie of the Year Award, making his entrance into the major league unforgettable as the first player to break the baseball “color line” against Black Americans.

Baseball has been a staple sport in the United States, woven into the social fabric of the nation’s idea of the American Dream. It allowed many, including Robinson, to become part of the larger “team” of American society. As President Bill Clinton said on the eve of the 1995 World Series, baseball has become America’s pastime and “is part of our common heritage.”

The nation’s popular sport could not have been possible without the initiative and innovation of three men—Benjamin F. Shibe, John A. Hillerich, and George H. Rawlings. Each of these men designed the necessary equipment that are still used in baseball today. 

George Rawlings was one of the first to patent a baseball glove. The inventor was a sporting goods store owner who made a glove with felt and rubber padding on the fingers, thumb, and palm to prevent the players’ hands from bruising. His patent from September 8, 1885, was the first padded baseball glove and has been used as inspiration for later iterations.

John Hillerich, an immigrant from Germany, started a woodwork shop in 1856 in Louisville, KY. The creation of the famous “Louisville Slugger” started with the woodworker’s son, who played amateur baseball. The baseball bat, designed with a harder surface to promote the ability to drive the ball, quickly became a staple item for the company and was patented on December 23, 1902. 

Benjamin Shibe, called the “Edison of the sport,” patented the cork-centered baseball on June 15, 1909. His brother and nephew, who had worked for a company that made cricket balls, joined Shibe to found a company that made baseballs for children and professionals. The company created many different brands of balls, but due to the sport’s popularity, they worked to create a baseball that had increased strength and durability. Shibe was also co-owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, and his cork-centered ball was used in all the Major League Baseball games in the 1911 season. The invention produced farther, more powerful hits.

The innovations by these three men have contributed to the sport being part of America’s history. As millions of fans—including U.S. Presidents—and players enthusiastically wait for Opening Day, it’s important to recognize the intersection between the history of baseball and the history of the nation. Without the improvements brought to the sport and the struggle for equal opportunity, the love for the game would not be the same.

For other records and to read more on the history of baseball, visit the National Archives Special Topics page America’s Favorite Pastime.


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