One of my favorite family activities is playing Wiffle Ball with my eight-year-old daughter. I try to hit the ball clear across the street and over my neighbor’s fence about 100 feet away. Though, the theoretical limit of hitting a Wiffle Ball seems to be something like 90 feet. My daughter enjoys beaming it off the house and delights in watching it roll down the pitch of our gabled roof. When we get bored, we normally start playing light-saber fight with the bright yellow Wiffle Ball bats.
One of the greatest things about real Wiffle balls is that they are (still) made in the U.S.A., in Shelton, Conn., near the New England cradle of the plastics industry.
Joshua Robinson at the Wall Street Journal penned a wonderful profile of the company, Wiffle Ball, Inc., and its factory. There is also an accompanying photo essay on a WSJ blog. Both are worth a look. My favorite quote from the story:
Wiffle Ball connoisseurs follow the company so closely that every few years, when the factory replaces its worn-down molds, the Mullanys have to field a slew of complaints.
People call and tell them the weight of the ball is off, when in fact the crisp new molds are only going back to accurately producing the correct specifications. “It’s one or two grams’ difference,” Steven said, “but people notice.”
The article made we wonder about the materials. I always figured that the balls and bats were made out of polyethylene, but I never knew for sure. Recycling symbols aren’t molded into the parts.
I looked up the original patent, filed on the first day of 1957.
It is a fun document to read:
In the playing of games wherein ball is struck by a bat, or the like, a disadvantage has often been encountered in respect to the limitations of space in certain areas where the game is played. In addition, because of the construction of the ball itself, with which these games are played, injury to property and persons are sustainable. Further, such games are oftentimes not able to be played by younger children or by persons, who, because of limited space available or other reasons, do not desire to run in participating in the game.
Enter the Wiffle Ball, the solution to all these problems. The patent presages half a century of Schaefer-fueled backyard barbeques. (The one beer to have when you desire not to run.)
“The shell is preferably made of plastic material, such as polyethylene or the like,” the patent says.
As for what kind of plastic, numerous references to the bat on the net say its high-density polyethylene. An article I found online by Eldon Bernstein, a management professor at Lynn University, and Fred Carstensen of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, indicates that the ball is made of low-density polyethylene.
This makes sense. The bat is stiff and has some fine texturing in the molded-in grip. The ball, at least a new one, is glossy. It also is much tougher, flexible, and impact resistant than a high-density ball would be. Those imported balls, which seem to be high-density, disintegrate at the mere mention of vigorous play. I can only crack a Wiffle Ball in cold weather.
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