America’s Pastime Patents
Cooling weather, changing leaves, and the start of holiday preparations – for many, these signs of the changing season are first in mind when autumn arrives.
But for me, the fall means something else. The crack of the bat, a 98 mph heater in the crucial 9th inning, and the champions of so many memorable World Series, including the 1979 Pirates, the 1983 Orioles, and the 1988 Dodgers. Along with all the memories and fun, baseball would also be less enjoyable without proper equipment to keep the players safe. And guess what, there are patents for all of that!
Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff’s favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects their five favorite patents under a given theme. This list is from Management and Program Analyst Bruce Mihalick.
This invention by George W. Harper of McNeil, Arkansas, was patented on July 12, 1932. While spiked shoes had been in use for quite some time, Harper’s baseball cleats changed the way sports footwear was designed. His innovation, was not only essential to running and the protection of a player’s foot, but also provided the traction necessary for stopping while being safer for defending players. As we all know, Ty Cobb had other (infamous) uses for the metal spike cleat prior to Harper’s invention.
Armor for Base-Ball Players
Having received a patent for this chest protector on July 7, 1908, former White Sox catcher Billy Sullivan was one of the few professional baseball players who actually invented equipment for the game he played and loved. I like this invention for obvious reasons: imagine unsuccessfully trying to catch a 95 mph fastball with no chest protection . . . ouch!
Other than the ball itself, a glove (or mitt) is the most basic and essential piece of equipment a baseball player needs. Most every kid who has played the game from little league on up has that favorite glove that they took months to break in just right. While players had been using gloves at least 50 years earlier, William L. Doak of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, earned a patent for this fielder’s glove on August 22, 1922. Doak’s glove uniquely employed a net between the thumb and the index fingers, an important innovation in glove design that is still used today.
Improvement in Masks (Catcher’s Mask)
Before the invention of this mask, which has been said to resemble a very sturdy birdcage, baseball catchers played bare faced. Even today, with all the refinements and improvements that have been made to face mask technology, catchers are injured more than any other player besides pitchers. Imagine trying to catch a curve, slider, or fastball and you miss and take it squarely on the mouth, or your nose, or in the eye! First introduced by Harvard University’s baseball team, this innovation was patented by Frederick W. Thayer, the team’s manager, on February 12, 1878.
Adjustable Batting Tee
Batting tees have been a training aid for many years and are key to helping youngsters learn the game of baseball. However, one of the primary challenges with many tees is that they are not height adjustable. This invention, patented by Roy C. Bird from Ann Arbor, Michigan, on November 4, 1952, helped players set the tee’s height to find their correct swing plane. What better way to learn and develop hand-eye coordination and proper swing mechanics? No doubt this invention has been used by many a little leaguer dreaming of being the next Bryce Harper!