How a 17 year-old boy changed
of baseball forever.
The 134-year history of Louisville Slugger all started with a 17-year-old playing hooky from work and choosing baseball over butter.
An apprentice in his father’s woodworking shop, John A. “Bud” Hillerich headed out one spring afternoon to take in a Louisville Eclipse game, the city’s major league team. After seeing Eclipse superstar Pete Browning break his bat that day, Hillerich offered to make the slumping slugger a new bat at his father’s shop.
He had made bats before. An amateur ball player himself, Hillerich had crafted some lumber for some of his teammates – as well as himself. But now, with Browning – known as ‘The Louisville Slugger’ – at his side giving direction on what he sought, the 17-year-old handcrafted the bat that launched one of the most iconic brands in history.
Browning, a three-time batting champion who finished his 13-year career with a .341 average, debuted the new bat the next day. He snapped his slump, collecting a trio of hits and setting in motion a chain of events whose effects are felt still today.
Despite Browning’s teammates flooding to the Hillerich shop for bats, Bud’s father saw a very different future for the company in stair railings, porch columns and swinging butter churns. At times in the 1880s, he actually turned away professional ball players seeking new bats.
But Bud persisted and, after some time, his father relented to his son’s unyielding enthusiasm.
In 1894, Bud took over the family business and ‘Louisville Slugger’ was registered with the United States Patent Office. Eleven years later in 1905, the company forever changed not just baseball – but sports marketing – by paying future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to use his name on a bat.
Six years later, a salesman for one of the Hillerich’s largest buyers, Frank Bradsby, joined J.F. Hillerich and Son. Bud and his father were experts in making bats – but lacked professional sales and marketing expertise. In stepped Bradsby, who, by 1916, became a full partner in the company. Thus, the Hillerich & Bradsby Co. was born.
Before Wagner, no player endorsed a bat nor an athlete endorsed an athletic product. That practice, of course, continues to this day across all sports. Since signing that first contract, Louisville Slugger has worked with generations of the best ballplayers in the game, including: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter.
Over the years, Hillerich and Bradsby Co. has filled needs in countless ways. During both World War I and II, the company produced equipment for the armed forces – while also making baseball and softball bats for the troops. In the 1970s, the wood bat business evolved, branching out into aluminum bats – which remains a major part of the baseball world to this day.
Some 130-plus years have come and gone since Bud Hillerich first sat down with Pete Browning in his father’s woodworking shop. Since that day, Louisville Slugger has sold north of 100 million bats – making it, without question, the most popular bat brand in history.
Louisville Slugger continues to dominate both the wood and aluminum bat worlds, with countless players swinging Slugger. In the past decade, many national college baseball champions have hammered their way to the top with Louisville Slugger bats in their hands.
Rooted in history and tradition, Louisville Slugger will continue to grow and evolve. Recently, the company has gone far beyond bats, piloting innovations in performance technology by creating equipment ranging from batting gloves and helmets to training aids and accessories for players.
But no matter how the game changes, Louisville Slugger carries the same sentiment Bud Hillerich felt in 1884 when he chose baseball over butter churns. Creating the best baseball bats in the world to help ball players take their game to the next level.