No sport embodies Americana quite like baseball, and fans should be pleased to note that the classic Louisville Slugger baseball bat -- used by approximately 60% of all Major League Baseball players -- is indeed made here in the U.S.
The 120-year history of the bat starts with a 17-year-old named John A. "Bud" Hillerich, whose father owned a woodworking shop in Louisville, Ky., in the 1880s.
Legend has it -- as told in the company's official history -- that in 1884, Hillerich was attending a game played by the Louisville Eclipse when its star player, mired in a hitting slump, broke his bat. The young man offered to carve a new bat for the player; after a three-hit game the next day, word of mouth spread throughout the team and orders for bats started coming in at a brisk pace.Hillerich's father, despite initial resistance, agreed to add bat making to his traditional trade of making stair railings and butter churns. In 1894, the name Louisville Slugger was registered with the U.S. Patent Office and, in the early 1900s, it pioneered a sports marketing concept by paying Hall of Fame hitter Honus Wagner to use his name on a bat. Football fans are also doing their part for the U.S. economy. Since 1941, Wilson Footballs has made the ball used in every NFL game (including all Super Bowls) and is the top manufacturer for the consumer market. Wilson also manufactures the official footballs of the NCAA. Wilson's official football is called "The Duke," a reference to the nickname of the late New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. In 1955, Wilson opened the Wilson Football factory in Ada, Ohio, described by the company as "the world's only dedicated football factory." Producing 4,000 footballs a day, the plant employs 120 people and production is done by hand. According to the company, the NFL is the only major sports league whose balls are made in the United States. The cowhides come from cattle raised in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, with young, lean steers preferred over fat dairy cows because the leather is more resistant to stretching. A less serious bit of sports equipment -- the Wiffle Ball -- was invented in the 1950s by a one-time semi-pro baseball player who created, and personally sold one by one, a ball to help kids throw curve balls. Today, the family business maintains the longstanding tradition that every Wiffle Ball ever made is from Shelton, Conn.