Churchill Downs & Louisville Slugger Factory
Trip Start Oct 03, 2007
25Trip End Oct 12, 2007
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Grandpa and I continued on to the Louisville Slugger Factor. The tour was free for us and everyone else who showed up today becuase the aircondition wasn't working. Right now the temperature is 90 degree and that it setting all time highs for this area. Grandpa and I thought it was warm but it didn't feel hot to us. Below is the history of the factory.
A Louisville Slugger baseball bat is the most famous product of its
kind in the world. This is the story behind the bat and the family
company that still creates it.
In 1842, J. Frederick
Hillerich emigrated with his family from Baden-Baden, Germany to the
United States. Eight years before, the 1834 Book of Sports had made its
debut as the nation's first publication covering baseball. But when he
arrived in Baltimore, J. Frederick Hillerich would never have dreamed
of the future impact his family would have on America's favorite
After a short while, the Hillerichs moved to Louisville, where J. Fred
started a woodworking shop in 1856. Two of his sons, Adam and John
Andrew "Bud" were born in the United States and would later join their
father in his business. By 1864 "J.F. Hillerich, Job Turning" was in
operation and filled orders for businesses by custom-turning everything
from balusters to bedposts.
The firm thrived and by 1875
the little woodworking shop employed about 20 people. In 1880 Bud
Hillerich, who was an amateur baseball player, became an apprentice in
his father's shop. Young Bud made his own baseball bats along with
bats for several of his teammates.
The debate over the origins of the first bat still generates
controversy among baseball enthusiasts, but the younger Hillerich was
most certainly involved in getting his father's business involved with
what would become the company's signature item. According to company
legend, the first bat was turned by Bud for Pete "The Old Gladiator"
Browning in 1884. Browning was a star on Louisville's professional
American Association team - the Eclipse. On a spring afternoon Bud,
then seventeen, witnessed Browning break his favorite bat. Bud offered
to make a bat for his hero and Browning accepted. According to the
story, after the young wood shop apprentice lathed a quality stick from
white ash Browning got three hits with it in the next game.
However, the company's
version of the story has been subject to challenges from baseball
scholars for many years. One of the earliest references to the first
bat appeared in a 1914 Louisville Herald article that included
an interview with Bud Hillerich. In that interview, Bud indicated that
he had only carved a ring in a Browning bat to ensure hitting success
for the superstitious slugger. In fact, some claim that Bud did not
make the first bat. They believe his father did and Bud then showed it
to some professional players who requested that his father make more
bats for the team. The elder Hillerich agreed only after getting a
promise from the players that they would request no more bats. As word
of mouth spread about the quality bats, other teams began sending in
There is one other story about the origins of the first Louisville Slugger. In a 1937 interview for Baseball Magazine ,
77-year-old Arlie Latham claimed that the first bat was made for him.
Latham, a third baseman for the St. Louis Browns of the American
Association, said that he had broken a bat in Louisville in 1883 or
1884 and was unable to find another one. He stopped into the Hillerich
wood-turning shop located near his hotel and asked J. Fred to have Bud
turn a bat for him. Latham's tale, considered as questionable as the
Browning version, was supported by a 1942 letter in which Bud Hillerich
verified the authenticity of the story. Experts continue to debate
We do know that J. Fred
wanted nothing to do with making bats. His business thrived on making
roller skids, bed posts, tenpins, wooden bowling balls and a very
popular, patented, swinging butter churn. However, Bud Hillerich
continued to improve the manufacturing processes of the new bat
business, inventing a centering device for a lathe and an automatic
sander. Their baseball bat business grew. The bat was first known as
the Falls City Slugger, (a reference to Louisville's location at the
Falls of the Ohio River), but the brand name was changed to Louisville
Slugger and registered as a trademark in 1894. Bud Hillerich became a
partner with his father in 1897 and the name of the firm was changed to
J.F. Hillerich and Son.
The success of the growing
bat company was enhanced beyond any expectations in 1905 when Honus
"The Flying Dutchman" Wagner, a star for the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed
a contract as the first player ever to endorse a bat. His autograph
was also the first to be used on a bat and the first known professional
athlete endorsement of a retail product. Ty Cobb signed with the
company in 1908.
A fire severely damaged the
bat factory in 1910 but rebuilding began quickly. In 1911, Frank
Bradsby, a successful salesman for one of Hillerich's largest buyers,
joined J.F. Hillerich and Son. He brought expertise and drive to the
company, along with the game of golf. In 1916 he became a full
partner, and the company name was changed, for the last time, to
Hillerich & Bradsby Co. Seeking to diversify products Bradsby
propelled the firm into producing golf clubs.
The success of the Louisville
Slugger bat was due in part to the fact that amateur baseball players
across the country could purchase the bat model of their favorite
big-league player. In 1915 the Louisville Slugger first appeared in a
youth-size model. In 1919 the company launched its first national
advertising campaign and in just four years was producing one million
bats a year. The success, however, was marred the next year by the
death of J. Frederick Hillerich. His son, Bud, became the boss.
A disastrous flood along the Ohio River in 1937 did significant damage
to one of the factories and some of the offices. Working almost nonstop
for weeks to repair the factory, Frank Bradsby became a physically
broken man. His efforts during this ordeal are believed to have led to
his death later that year.
Hillerich & Bradsby Co.
served its country during World War II by producing M-1 carbine stocks,
tank pins and billy clubs for the armed forces. It also continued to
make baseball and softball bats for the troops. Bud Hillerich died in
1946 and his son Ward took over. But after only three years as
president, Ward died in 1949. His brother, John A. Hillerich Jr.,
In 1954 the company purchased
Larimer and Norton Inc., a lumber company in Pennsylvania, and created
its own timber division. This expansion assured that the bat making
operation would maintain an adequate supply of timber. The company
also further diversified its products with the purchase of Wally
Enterprises in Ontario, Canada which marked the firm's entrance into
the ice hockey stick business.
Hillerich & Bradsby Co.
moved its offices to the Portland Federal Building in downtown
Louisville in 1968. Within six years the company bought a building in
Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville Slugger bat production moved
across the river, but later returned to its Kentucky roots. The
corporate offices always remained in Louisville.
In 1969, John Hillerich Jr. died and his son, John A. "Jack" Hillerich III, at 29 years old, was named company president.
The first line of Louisville
Slugger baseball and softball gloves was introduced in 1975. In 1978,
the Louisville Slugger name started to grace aluminum bats. The
Louisville Slugger aluminum bat, as well as its wood counterpart, is
available in adult baseball, youth baseball, and softball models. The
TPX and TPS models are huge hits and are the top selling models in the
business. The TPS Model bats are used by Olympic softball players Lisa
Fernandez, Laura Berg and Jessica Mendoza.
In 1996 Hillerich &
Bradsby Co. brought the wood bat production back to Louisville and
moved into new headquarters at 800 West Main Street. Professional
baseball players continue to have their bats custom made at the wood
bat manufacturing facility, not far from where the very first bats were
made back in the 1800s.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, one of the most visited
attractions in Kentucky, is also housed with the corporate
headquarters. The location is well-marked by the World's Biggest
Baseball Bat that casually leans against the side of the building.
Visitors are invited to the museum to learn about the Official Bat of
Major League Baseball - the Louisville Slugger! In the summer of 2001
the Museum rewarded its one millionth visitor with a prize package that
included an all-expense paid trip for two to game three of the World
In 2000, Hillerich &
Bradsby Co. teamed up with a local hand surgeon to create H&B's
newest division - Bionic Gloves. The unique combination of a
physician's medical knowledge and H&B's ability to create
exceptional equipment resulted in new hockey gloves, baseball fielding
gloves, gardening gloves, golf gloves - and the list keeps growing.