Today, the Baseball Commemorative Half Dollar Coin remembers the beginning of a sports equipment venture 141 years ago that would become a large enterprise supporting many types of sports.
The man behind the venture and an important influence on baseball was Albert G. Spalding.
The book, Men of the Century, by Charles Morris, published in 1896, provided insights into the man, his background, his involvement in sports and his equipment businesses.
Albert G. Spalding.
The development of the American national game of baseball is so closely identified with the name of Albert G. Spalding that the two can only be mentioned in close connection.
Born at Byron, Ogle County, Illinois, September 3, 1850, he removed to Rockford, Illinois, with his parents, in 1863, completed his education in the commercial college of that city, and began his business life as a grocery clerk at five dollars per week.
He had already shown marked ability as a baseball player, and now continued a member of the Forest City Baseball Club, then the leading club of the West.
In 1867 this Rockford club surprised the country by defeating the National Club of Washington, then the champion club of the country.
This victory, which was largely due to young Spalding’s striking ability as a pitcher, gave him a national reputation, and offers of positions, at salaries ranging from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred dollars per year, were sent him from a number of clubs.
Such offers, to a boy of seventeen, were very alluring, but his mother and sister so strongly opposed his embarking in the career of a professional sportsman that he accepted instead a position in a wholesale grocery store in Chicago.
During the succeeding four years he had a strange experience.
The store in which he was failed in business, and so did an insurance company, a newspaper, and an insurance agent, with which he successively became connected.
He had returned to Rockford, and was now pitcher for the Forest City Baseball Club, which also disbanded.
Discouraged by these several failures, he now decided, against his mother’s and sister’s earnest wish, to accept a professional position in the Boston Baseball Club at a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars a year.
In his desire, however, to please his friends, he accepted two other positions, one on the New York Graphic, and one in a Boston insurance office.
Both these failed, making seven failures in five years of concerns with which he had been connected.
Evidently the fates were against his embarking in business as an employee, and he was forced to pursue baseball as a profession.
He had for years had the idea that the “great American game” might be popularized in other lands, and in 1874 he visited England, and made arrangements for a tour in that country of the Boston and Philadelphia clubs.
The tour through England and Ireland that followed proved a highly successful one, Mr. Spalding acting as assistant to its business manager.
His success in this made him aspire to become manager of a club himself.
From 1871 to 1875 he had been the only pitcher of the Boston Club, and the victorious career of this club gave him so high a reputation that in 1876 the Chicago Club engaged him as its manager, captain, and pitcher.
Under his management the Chicago Club that year won the League championship.
Mr. Spalding took an active part, with William A. Hubert, in organizing the National League, now the governing body of baseball throughout the world.
On the death of Mr. Hubert, in 1882, he became president of the Chicago Club, with which, and the All-American Baseball Team, he made a tour of the world in 1888-89, the result of which was the introduction of the representative American game into fourteen different countries.
But Mr. Spalding’s life has not been solely one of sport.
In 1876 he, with his brother, J. Walter Spalding, began business in a small way in Chicago in the manufacture of baseball bats and other sporting goods.
So successful was this venture that at the close of 1877 he retired from active work on the field, having often had to leave the ground after a hard game and work until midnight in his office.
In 1879, William T. Brown, his brother-in-law, entered the firm, which has since been known as A. G. Spalding & Bros.
Soon after starting business they began to manufacture for themselves, establishing a large factory at Hastings, Michigan, which was burned in 1887.
The business was then removed to Chicago, where all kinds of sporting goods in which wood predominates are now produced on a very extensive scale by the Spalding Manufacturing Company.
In 1885 a branch house was established in New York, and one in Philadelphia in 1891, while some ten large factories are located in various parts of the country.
In 1891 the demands of his great business caused Mr. Spalding to retire from the presidency of the Chicago Baseball Club, though his interest in it remains undiminished.
He is at present, as president of the A. G. Spalding Land Association, engaged in the disposal of a large tract of land just south of the city limits of Chicago, being part of the celebrated Calumet Region.
The Baseball Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the Chicago Champions of the 1876-77 season with Mr. Spalding in the middle.