First Louisville Slugger Bat

Historical marker #2499 commemorates the fabrication of the first Louisville Slugger bat by the Hillerich & Son Co., now the Hillerich & Bradsby Co. The marker is located outside of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where Louisville Slugger bats are still manufactured today.

In 1842, J. Frederich Hillerich (1834-1924) emigrated with his family from Baden-Baden, Germany to Baltimore, Maryland. The Hillerich family then moved to Louisville in 1856, which at the time was a booming city of more than 20,000 people. Upon arriving in Louisville and after apprenticing with his father, J.F. opened his own woodshop and barrel-making business, J. F. Hillerich, Job Turning, in downtown Louisville. At J.F. Hillerich, Job Turning, Hillerich crafted roller skids, bed posts, tenpins, duckpins, and wooden bowling balls.

In 1880, J.F.’s son John A. “Bud” Hillerich (1866-1946) began apprenticing at his father’s shop at the age of 14. On a sunny afternoon in 1884, Bud attended a Louisville Eclipse major league baseball game. That day, star player Pete “The Louisville Slugger” Browning broke his bat during the game. Bud, an amateur baseball player that made his own baseball bats along with bats for some of his teammates, jumped at the opportunity to make Browning a new one at his father’s woodworking shop.

Browning accompanied Bud to the shop and selected a piece of ash for Bud to work. Many times, the bat was removed from the lathe for a test swing by Browning. At last, Pete pronounced the bat was “just right.” In the next Louisville Eclipse game, Browning went three for three. The bat that Bud fashioned for Browing is known as the first Louisville Slugger bat and orders poured in from other players for Hillerich manufactured bats.

Bud was passionate about adding baseball bat manufacturing into the family business, but J.F. was not easily convinced. He did not enjoy the game of baseball like his son and did not believe there was money to be made in baseball bats, but rather the future of the business was a popular, patented, swinging butter churn. Bud continued to improve the bat-making business and drew up patented processes for the Hillerich bat. The bat business grew for the Hillerich Company and the name “Louisville Slugger” became their trademark in 1894. In 1897, Bud joined his father as a partner and the company was renamed “J.F. Hillerich & Son.”

In 1901, the success of the bat company and increasing production demands necessitated the company’s move to larger facilities on Finzer Street. In 1905, Honus “The Flying Dutchman” Wagner, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed a contract giving J.F. Hillerich & Son permission to use his autograph on Louisville Slugger bats. This was the first time a professional athlete endorsed an athletic product and was the first player to ever endorse a bat.

In 1911, Frank Bradsby, a successful salesman for one of the Hillerich’s largest buyers, joined J.F. Hillerich & Son. Bradsby brought sales experience and marketing expertise to the company. In 1916, the company name changes to Hillerich & Bradsby Co. when Bradsby became a full partner.

The war years caused Hillerich & Bradsby to turn its focus temporarily from the making of sporting goods. During World War I, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. made equipment for troops. The company also served during World War II, producing M-1 carbine gunstocks, track pins for tanks, and billy clubs.

In 1996, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. moved into headquarters at 800 West Main Street. This location is the site of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, which continues to make Slugger baseball bats while also offering factory tours and a museum experience.

The marker reads:

FIRST LOUISVILLE SLUGGER BAT

Site of J.F. Hillerich carpentry

shop, 1875-1901. In 1884, J.F.’s

son, J.A. “Bud” Hillerich, attended

a Louisville Eclipse major league

baseball game. After star player

Pete Browing broke his bat,

Hillerich offered to make a new

One. Browning got three hits the

next day and soon his teammates

wanted to order Hillerich bats.

Sponsored by Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory


FIRST LOUISVILLE SLUGGER BAT

Hillerich grew the bat business,

trademarking “Louisville Slugger”

in 1894. Name changed from J.F.

Hillerich & Son to Hillerich &

Bradsby Co. in 1916. They excelled

at bat making and marketing,

becoming a worldwide icon. H&B

eventually moved to 8th and Main

Streets with pro bat factory tours

and a baseball museum.

Sponsored by Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory


This marker was dedicated on May 10, 2017.

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