Wright & Ditson Foot Ball Goods

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New England was the birthplace of American football and in the 1870's and 1880's Wright & Ditson was strategically located to help fuel the growth of the sport. Recognizing foot ball's potential, in 1882 the company secured the right to publish the American Intercollegiate Association's "Foot-Ball Rules" as compiled by Walter Camp, the "Referee's Book" and the "Foot-Ball Record Book." Publishing the books for the Association was marketing genius. It enabled Wright & Ditson to put their catalog in the hands of nearly every football player in the country.
As the growth of sports in post-Civil War America exploded and sporting goods companies grew larger, encroachment into competitors' territories was inevitable. In 1883, Wright & Ditson opened a retail store in Chicago, A.G. Spalding & Bros. hometown. During the same period, Spalding expanded into New York and Philadelphia. Where the companies didn't operate retail stores, they sought local partners who they licensed to be exclusive sellers of their products. By the mid-1880's, Wright & Ditson athletic goods advertisements were appearing daily in newpapers across the northeast and midwest. The competition led to rapid advances in the evolution of equipment as rival firms sought to increase their marketshare.

In one of the first ever sports patent infringement cases in the United States, in March 1886, a Chicago court ruled the A.G. Spalding & Bros. infringed on Wright & Ditson's "Catcher's Mask" patent. In the same month, Wright & Ditson was on the losing side of an suit charging that the company infringed on the Baker Polo Goal Cage patent. The stakes were high and companies increasingly turned to the judicial system to protect their potential profits.
It's unknown to what degree Wright & Ditson manufactured the equipment they sold between 1880 and 1890. Period catalogs suggest that they imported items such footballs and cricket equipment, but produced the majority of their other goods domestically. Unlike competing sporting goods companies, there are no contemporary mentions of Wright & Ditson factories in Boston-area newspapers and no patents issued or assigned to Wright & Ditson for sports equipment during this period. It is probable that the company manufactured some of their products, such as uniforms, bats, and tennis racquets, and contracted with third parties to produce other goods under the Wright & Ditson name.

Wright & Ditson Football Ad, 1883
Wright & Ditson Football Shoes Ad, 1883

Meeting the Demand

The Rise of Competition

Wright & Ditson Uniforms Ad, 1883
The future of Wright & Ditson changed dramatically in November of 1891 when 35-year old Henry Ditson died suddenly of a heart attack. According to the Boston Daily Globe, Ditson had suffered from heart disease for some time and died sitting in a chair in his home.

George Wright, now 45 years old, had an important decision to make. Ditson had been responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and replacing him would be difficult. By February, 1892, Wright's had made his decision; he quietly sold the controlling interest in Wright & Ditson (9,997 of the 9,999 company shares) to A.G. Spalding. Spalding brought in John Morrill, Wright's former Red Stockings teammate, to oversee Wright & Ditson's retail department. According to the Davenport Morning Tribute, John was to become the "Co." in the new Wright, Ditson & Co.

Spalding wasn't finished expanding his empire. Later that year, he purchased his sole remaining major competitor, A.J. Reach & Co. of Philadelphia. In what was likely an attempt to avoid prosecution under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, the purchases weren't made public for decades. All three companies would remain in business, independently selling their own line of sporting goods despite all being owned by Spalding. At the time, these three companies produced over 50% of all athletic equipment sold in the United States.

An Untimely Loss

Wright & Ditson Baseball Equipment Ad 1883
Despite the fierce business rivalry, George Wright and Albert Spalding maintained a personal and professional respect for one another through the years. In 1888, Spalding came up with the idea of a second American baseball and cricket world tour, similar to the trip he took with Wright and Reach in 1874. George accepted Spalding's invitation to play with the delegation, which visited countries across the globe, including Hawaii, Australia, India, Egypt, Germany, Italy, France, and England. Upon the party's return to the United States in April, 1889, Spalding was an honorary guest at a reception held for Wright in Boston.
Wright & Ditson Ad, 1883
Boston Daily Globe, November 16, 1891
Wright & Ditson Ad, 1891
Wright & Ditson Tennis Marker Ad, 1891
Wright & Ditson Agent List, 1891

Golf at Franklin Field

George Wright may have been introduced to the sport of golf during the European leg of his baseball tour. After his return he was part of the first "foursum" to play the sport in New England. On December 12, 1890, Wright, Sam Donald, Temple Craig, and Fred Mansfield played two ten-hole rounds of golf on an impromptu course laid out in Boston's Franklin Park. The golf equipment used that day was imported from Scotland by George Wright. By 1898, the sport would grow to an estimated 150 golf clubs with over 25,000 members in New England, and golf equipment would become one of Wright & Ditson's most popular sporting goods lines of the twentieth century.

Maker Spotlight:
The History of Wright & Ditson
November 24, 2015
Page 2
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Canvas, Lard, and Turpentine:
The Football Jacket