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  • Writer's pictureDebora Ellen Blodgett

Play Ball! 19th Century Baseball Equipment Patents

Updated: Dec 11, 2023



1887 Jim Donahue Baseball Card

Looking out the window at the snow on a cold winter's day, we long for spring. What happens in spring? Well for many, it marks the beginning of baseball season.


Baseball in America has a long history. One of the first baseball clubs, organized in 1845, was the New York Knickerbockers. Many more clubs formed shortly thereafter in New York and elsewhere, including Philadelphia's Athletics and in New England there were the Olympics, the Elm Trees, and the Green Mountains. In 1857 a convention was held with 16 ball clubs and a uniform set of rules was adopted. [1]


By 1858 there were 25 ball clubs and the organization National Association of Baseball Players was formed. [2]



1863 Union Prisoners NC

While the Civil War interrupted the play

of the ball clubs, it also served as a way to communicate knowledge of the game to those men who had not yet had the

pleasure of playing it. Following the war, there was a renewed enthusiasm for the game and by 1866 there were over 200 ball clubs from 17 states. [3] The sport grew each year in popularity and by 1891 formal leagues were formed.[4]


As the expression goes - necessity is the mother of invention. As the game became more formal with organized ball clubs, leagues, and rules - there was a need for new and improved baseball equipment.

1868 Patent for Baseball Base

One of earliest patents relating to the game was issued to Esau D. Taylor of New York, in 1868. The invention was "Base for Ball-Players." The invention pertained to a method to secure a base to the ground using a pin-socket, swivel-cap, and cushion/sand-bag. The inventor stated "The advantages to be derived from my invention, as will readily be seen, are that the bases, when located, and the stakes driven, will remain at fixed points, and not be moved about by the players as they reach them, in making their runs, and the cushion or sand-bag, being secured to the plate-cap to that they can turn on the center, materially aid the play in resting on the base and watching the movements of the pitcher, and other movements of the game." [5]


1868 Patent Baseball

In 1868, Henry Alden of New York, patented an "Improvement in India-Rubber Base-Balls," a further improvement to his 1867 patent. The inventor stated that this ball was more durable than ordinary balls. The center of the ball was made of cork but rather than the ordinary leather covering, the inventor proposed an outer covering of rubber and the stitching was imitated by raised rubber stitching, to prevent slipping of the ball when used. [6]



1883 Patent Catcher's Mask

Alexander K. Schapp of Virginia sought to solve an issue facing catchers. Schapp indicated it was common for a catcher's mask to consist of a cushioned frame having wires which was strapped to the head. He claimed that in the event of a foul ball, which required the catcher to look up, the mask would obstruct the catcher's vision and was removed during play. Schapp's improved invention for "Mask for Base-Ball Catchers" had a spring catch which, when pressed, could release to open the mask without changing the position of the head. [7]



1884 Patent Bat

William Gray of Connecticut sought to improve a "Base-Ball Bat" with his patent number 300,360 issued in 1884. The improvement, he claimed, was a bat having a handle covered with sand which was secured to the handle by shellac. This improvement, he stated, would prevent the bat from slipping from the grasp of the players. [8]


1887 Patent Catcher's Equipment

As you can see from the baseball card image of the catcher depicted above, in 1887 there was minimal protection equipment for catchers.


William Gray of Connecticut sought to improve the the protection for catchers with his invention in 1887 by creating a "Body Protector" that was both light and durable enough to resist the shock of the blow. The protector consisted of india-rubber hollow springs covered by a flexible fabric such as cloth or leather. [9]



1888 Patent Baseball Glove


Frederick Fischer of Missouri sought to prevent ball players from injuring or breaking their fingers with his 1888 invention of "Base-Ball Glove." Fisher's invention consisted of a glove with fingers of hinged metal plates. [10]





1889 Patent Baseball Shoe

William Croner of New York sought to improve footwear with his 1889 patent "Base-Ball Shoe". Croner claimed that prior to his invention, shoe spikes were screwed in to the sole which formed protruding lumps on the insole. His improvement was to insert a metal plate between the sole and the insole to which the spike could be secured. Thus, eliminating any lumps on the insole. [11]





1891 Patent Baseball Glove

Earle Decker of Pennsylvania sought to improve a "Catcher's Glove" with his invention patented in 1891. Prior to his invention, he states, gloves had wool or felt padding within the glove and after usage the glove quickly deteriorated, as the protective batting would become compressed. His invention sought to solve this issue by creating a glove with a pocket into which the padding could be inserted and then removed and replaced when needed. [12]


These patents were selected to illustrate the scope of the type of items being patented during the late 19th century. There were many more patents.


One thing to keep in mind about historical patents is that just because the invention met the novelty requirements to be patented, it does not mean the invention was commercially successful or used in practice. Just looking at the above catcher's mask, one can image how uncomfortable such a mask would be wear not to mention being heavy and difficult to bear in the summer weather.


Patenting of inventions related to baseball continues to this day. One of the most recent patents pertaining to baseball is patent number 10,857,442 issued December 8, 2020 for a "Baseball swing training device."[13]


Spring will be here soon - then it will be time to play ball!


Images


Library of Congress, "Baseball Cards," database with images, Photo, Print Drawing (https://www.loc.gov/item/2007680790 : accessed 27 January 2021), Jim Donahue, New York Metropolitans, baseball card portrait, digital id: bbc 0050f //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/bbc.0050f; citing Baseball cards from the Benjamin K. Edwards Collection.


Library of Congress, "Prints & Photographs Reading Room," database with images, Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.02608/ : accessed 27 January 2021), Union prisoners at Salisbury, N.C., digital id: pga 02608 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.02608; citing Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Sources


[1] Victor Baseball Guide (New York: Overman Wheel Co., 1896); Archive.org (http://archive.org : accessed 28 January 2021), 5.


[2] Victor Baseball Guide, 5.


[3] Victor Baseball Guide, 6, 8.


[4] Victor Baseball Guide, 6.


[5] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Esau D. Taylor, Base for Ball-Players, patent no. 75,076 (1868).


[6] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Henry A. Alden, Improvement in India-Rubber Base-Balls, patent no. 79,719 (1868).


[7] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Alexander K. Schapp, Mask for Base-Ball Catchers, patent no. 287,331 (1883).


[8] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), William Gray, Base-Ball Bat, patent no. 300,360 (1884).


[9] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), William Gray, Body-Protector, patent no. 374,150 (1887).


[10] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Frederick G. Fischer, Base-Ball Glove, patent no. 381,687 (1888).


[11] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), William Croner, Base-Ball Shoe, patent no. 412,472 (1889).


[12] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Earle Harry Decker, Catcher's Glove, patent no. 450,366 (1891).


[13] "USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database," digital images, USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://patft.uspto.gov : accessed 27 January 2021), Robert Nicholas Kibbe et al, Baseball Swing Training Device, patent no. 10,857,442 (2020).


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Copyright 2021, Debora Ellen Blodgett

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