USA Company A.G.Spalding was founded in 1876 by Albert Goodwill Spalding a successful baseball player. While the business was based on baseball the company expanded into a variety of sports, tennis included and sold the famous name “Slocum Tennis Racket” after Henry Slocum who was the second US singles champion in 1888/1889. This racquet was made in Belgium.
In 1925, Spalding made the decision to open their fifth plant globally in Australia, adding to those which already existed in the USA, Canada, UK and France. Melbourne was their preferred city and the suburb in which the new plant was constructed was Sunshine.
Their decision to set up in Australia was based on the very protective trade tariff conditions which added quite considerably to the retail cost of imported racquets plus the growing popularity of tennis and golf in this country. Companies such as Alexanders and Chesterfield were taking advantage of local production and gearing up for growing demand.
The plant was purpose built to make tennis racquets, tennis balls and golf balls. The tennis balls were the new two piece plugless and stitchless type which Spalding had invented.
One of the first employees and Victorian Sales Manager was Gerald Patterson a famous Australian player of the era, known for his wins at Wimbledon in (1919 & 1922), the Australian Championship in 1927 and numerous Davis Cup teams.
Tennis racquets were imported from the USA in a rough state and then on special machinery they were shaped to the various designs. They did however use Queensland maple and cedar woods for the handles. Projections in the first year were to produce 40,000 racquets.
Key 1926 brands were the top of the range Kro-Bat, Gold Medal OS, Gold Medal HIC, Vantage, Greenwood, Crescent and the local (assumed) Sunshine models. Players of the era endorsing Spalding at the time in local advertising were W.Tilden, Bill Johnston and Australians Jack Hawkes, Pat O’Hara Wood and Gerald Patterson. By 1927, the famous Top Flite split throat made an appearance and given Spalding’s global marketing stance, racquets produced in the USA which are in more plentiful supply closely resemble designs made locally. In 1929, there was the Davis-Cup-De-Luxe and by 1930 models included the Peerless and the Endura.
9th September 1926
This is a very early truly Australian Spalding racquet featuring the suburb of “Sunshine” in the logo. Note Australia is highlighted in green which matched the paint colouring on the shaft.
These colourful images were part of the Hartley Retail product catalogue 1930-1931
Couretsy of State Library of Victoria. Note the Sunshine model.
The relationship between Pat O’Hara Wood and Spalding also saw an early signature racquet model being produced.
Spalding Greenwood Racquet made in Sunshine with a similar look and feel to the USA counterpart.
A USA made model but very similar to Australian specification by the look in these ads.
Above and below we have c 1945 shots from the Spalding Factory showing gloss finish application
over a seemingly complete racquet and below the decal application process.
Photos courtesy of National Archive of Australia above ref NAA A1200, L3187 below ref NAA B4498, 102A1
Below we have a shot of the first Grands Slam winner Don Budge who was used extensively as a Worldwide endorsed player. Racquets from the top are Vines Personal, Wightman Cup Ladies Model,Kro-bat Veri Ply, Silver Stream, Hercules (4 star), Vines Autograph (3 star). The first were 5 star as used by the Davis Cup Team.
Reverse of Top Flite Don Budge (above) Similar Vintage Davis Cup model
This locally made racquet from the late 1930-1940′s shows champion player Nancye Bolton (Wynne).
She won the Australian Open in 1937, 1940, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951, RU 1936, 1949
Spalding acquired Alexander Tennis Racquets over a period from 1957 to 1961 and integrated the machinery into the Sunshine plant. They even attempted to continue the ‘Cressy’ name with a Spalding model.
By the mid 1970′s the global situation for Spalding included contract production from Snauwaert in Belgium and as Asia n manufacturing also grew at this time, the writing was on the wall for local production.
We are still gathering information about the period from late 1930′s to late 1960′s, however please enjoy the following photos from the 1975 era when Spalding had huge success with their new aluminium racquet called the Smasher and other woodies.
In the 1950′s and 1960′s, the Pancho Gonzales endorsed racquets were the mainstay of the business and this involvement extended into the mid 1970′s.
The racquet below was made in Australia as the ‘Dennis Ralston’ signature model. A tough ask promoting an American Davis Cup player in Australia who desperately wants to beat the USA again.
Made in Australia USA Davis Cup Player endorsed. c mid 1960′s
The very attractive Speedshaft racquets were made by Snauwaert in Belgium
Note the John Alexander model, made in Belgium by Snauwaert which was pretty much the case from the mid 1970′s on.
The WCT (World Championship Tennis) was launched with a group of professionals including Newcombe, Laver, Roche and Rosewall plus others.
While Spalding made racquets in the mid 1970′s, a clash between the WCT owner, Lamar Hunt and Wimbledon saw all these players banned from the 1972 tournament.