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Wiffle Ball, Inc.

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.

4 Comments

  • Jun 28th 201107:06
    by David Kroll

    Okay, when I come up to DC we need to have a C&EN Wiffle ball game.

    This sport was legendary on the short, dead-end street where I grew up across from the town’s water tower in northern New Jersey. The rules in one-on-one Wiffle ball were: ground ball not caught, a single; a fly ball anywhere across the street on the grass, a double; hitting the fence around the water tower on a fly, a triple; over the fence, home run. However. If you hit a foul ball to the far right into a neighbor’s yard, it was three outs. Why? The neighbor gave you such grief about coming into his yard to get your ball, it was often the end of the game. Called “an Emmanuel” it was the ultimate penalty.

    If I can find a picture of me on my street as a kid, I’ll put up a post.

    Thanks for stimulating some great memories.

  • Jun 30th 201110:06
    by Alex Tullo

    You are welcome, David. I am on the staff meeting planning committee, so I might be in a position to make such a thing happen. We will need a location. Perhaps the Ellipse. Hitting it over the White House fence is three outs.

  • Jul 18th 201115:07
    by Melody Bomgardner

    We had a similar rule in my neighborhood, except it was a four-square ball – used in kickball – and the outs were due to a neighbor’s two easily angered German shepherds. So the polymer was different, but the context was the same.

  • Oct 11th 201121:10
    by katherinecannon.com

    Sounds like fun! I’m looking for a Wiffle Ball league in Seattle to join!

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