A Propeller, Wings and a Baseball: A Diamond from Bolling Field
Brick walls. Dead ends. Regardless of the term one employs to describe fruitless research, the end result will always be disappointment.
A while ago, I located a fantastic jersey for a very reasonable price and despite the cursory research and due diligence not yielding specific results, I moved ahead with making a bid to purchase the artifact. What initially drew my attention to this jersey was that it was a departure from my norm in terms of the armed forces branches that were already represented within my collection (which, at the time, consisted of one Navy, two Army and three Marines baseball uniforms or jerseys). In nearly ten years of actively searching for military baseball items, I hadn’t yet seen anything from the Army Air Forces (or Air Corps).
The online listing showed a rather simple, road gray wool flannel jersey with thin black soutache on the placket, around the collar and located about one inch from the edge of each sleeve. What sets this jersey apart from others is the the application of the lettering. Spelling out “BOLLING FIELD” are athletic felt, two color (gold over navy blue), large block characters. Each letter consists of a gold piece of felt centered over a larger one of blue felt with color-matched stitching that give a illusion of three-dimensional appearance. The careful placement of the “E” (in FIELD) ensured that the button hole alignment wouldn’t interfere with a tasteful alignment of the team name.
On the left sleeve, a two-piece athletic felt (similar to the lettering) winged-propeller emblem, complete with accenting embroidery (adding feathers to the wing and a baseball at the center of the prop) denoting the Air Forces mission of the base. The back of the jersey is plain and without numerals. The style of the jersey and the overall design is representative of those from the early 1940s which coincides with the what the seller described as being a World War II baseball jersey.
Attempting to determine the age of the jersey or when it was made isn’t necessarily an easy task however there isn’t really anything substantive that can be used to pinpoint the age. The team name provides an era (1918-1948) when the base existed as an airfield (rather than an Air Force Base following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force). Bolling Field was established after the Defense Department’s property was divided between the army and the navy for each branch’s aviation operations in the Washington D.C. area. Named for Ranar C. Bolling, a colonel who, having been recently appointed (by General Pershing) as the chief of air service for II Corps when he was killed (on March 26, 1918), during Operation Michael while he was scouting in the early days of the offensive. A thirty-year window of age possibilities hardly provided me with specificity so I had to look at the jersey’s other elements.
A commonality among the majority of the military jerseys that I have seen and certainly within my collection is the absence of manufacturer’s tags. Most of the uniforms and jerseys worn by service-member ball players have just a lone size tag. the Bolling jersey has a tag that until I acquired this jersey, I had not seen before.
If the jersey was made by Spalding or Goldsmith, the tag would be very useful in determining the age (see: Early Baseball Uniforms Manufacturer Tags Database: 1890 – 1942). These two manufacturers employed a measure of consistency (even as the logo changed, it did so in specific periods) over the course of manufacturing an immeasurable volume of baseball uniforms for professional and amateur teams. However, the manufacturer of the Bolling jersey, Lowe & Campbell, has a more murky history in terms of label usage and available, pinpoint-dated examples to draw comparisons. I was able to find a handful of L & C label examples but when attempting to use them as a basis for dating, there is considerable challenge, especially considering the company’s history.
Lowe and Campbell (L&C) was founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1912 by George C. Lowe and Keedy Campbell during a period of massive growth in the sporting goods industry that was already being dominated by companies (Spalding, Rawlings and Wilson) that, today remain the leading manufacturers and suppliers of sports equipment. L&C’s early years in the industry found their principle customers in schools, colleges and universities and within the the realm of athletic teams sponsored by private industry. Throughout their first decade, the company experience growth, opening up offices throughout the Midwest but by the early 1930s, had become a target of one of the larger sporting goods giants who were seeking to rapidly expand into markets via acquisitions, as was the common practice, rather than expending effort and resources to develop into these areas. Wilson Sporting Goods entered into a merger agreement with L & C in 1931, but rather than to absorb the smaller company, Wilson positioned themselves as the wholesale supplier and retained their acquisition, L&C became a division of the giant as retailers of their products.
Maintaining this corporate alignment well into the next few decades, Wilson expanded the L&C offices into new markets and continued to produce products that carried the company’s logos. The catalogs throughout this era reveal that Lowe and Campbell expanded their product lines to include a greater variety of sport. As with the practices of many sporting goods retailers, their product offerings were predominantly manufactured by different sporting good companies with L&C adding their own tags and company markings. Even prior to the merger, Lowe and Campbell sold re-branded products supplied by manufacturers such as Hillerich and Bradsby, the makers of Louisville Slugger bats.
“After the merger the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats disappear from the catalogs. Wilson baseball bats are added to the catalog by 1940, but they continue to sell Louisville Slugger bats, which dominate the catalogs. Wilson continued to manufacture baseball gloves under the private Branded Lowe & Campbell name. Because of the lack of catalog information it is not clear when Louisville Slugger began to make the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats They do appear in the 1922 Lowe & Campbell catalog along side Louisville Slugger.” – KeyMan Collectibles
Following World War II, Wilson’s growth had continued as they acquired additional small sporting goods companies. Lowe and Campbell’s retail operation was eliminated as they were transformed into a wholesale operation their parent, Wilson functioning as both the manufacturer and wholesaler. The shift away from retail diminished the L&C brand and by 1960, Wilson eliminated it all together, shuttering the division and even closing down the Kansas City facility where Lowe and Campbell began.
Today, the remnants of the sporting goods brand exist via collectors who preserve the artifacts that produced and sold by Lowe and Campbell. However, a re-birth of the L&C brand is in process and the owner, Thomas Martin, whom acquired the brand, shared with me (via the company’s Facebook page) that Lowe and Campbell‘s 2018 fall launch will be headlined with American manufactured sports apparel.
Attempting to chronologically trace the progression of the company’s label history seems to be a futile attempt, especially in determining the of date the Bolling Field jersey. I found various (dates known) L&C branded garments and checked the labels in an effort to piece together a timeline and was unsuccessful at narrowing down transitional patterns.
Desiring to tap into the expertise of the new owner of the Lowe and Campbell brand, I asked Thomas Martin about the logos and tags, sharing some of the samples (shown above) in an effort to gain some insight. “No one,” Martin stated, “kept historical dated records of the brand,” but, in his experience with the vintage garments themselves, is able to determine the age, having seen countless products that were made and sold by Lowe and Campbell during the company’s first incarnation. Mr. Martin’s assessment of the label in the Bolling jersey was that it dated from the 1930s, “L&C only used two logos,” Martin wrote, “the one you have was used in the 30’s.” Martin discussed the logo change as a result of being acquired (in 1931 by Wilson). Garments made by the company in the 1940s began to receive a new logo (see the two bottom-right examples, above) on their tags.
My next research step will be to search through newspaper archives from WWII in the Washington D.C. area seeking any box scores or news articles regarding the Bolling Field team’s game-play. My hope is that the Army Air Force public relations personnel was as open in terms of publicizing the competitiveness of their base team. In my estimation, this team had to have competed against other service teams within the region including the Norfolk Naval Training Station and Norfolk Naval Air Station teams. The only baseball-specific lead (with a possible connection) that I have discovered regarding Bolling centers on Hank Greenberg.
In Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, author John Rosengren states, “A friend of Hank’s, Sam Edelman, wrote on his behalf to have Hank promoted to the rank of captain and assigned as an athletic director in the Air Corps (sic) at Bolling Field. Two brigadier generals carried the request to the War Department, lobbying for the educational qualifications (for an officer’s commission) to be waived for Greenberg. The Adjutant General denied the request on the grounds that it was ‘contrary to the policies of the Secretary of War.'” No mention is made (within the book) regarding Sergeant Greenberg’s ball-playing at Bolling Field. However, according to Rosengren, Greenberg would eventually be assigned as a director of the physical training program at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida and would subsequently be assigned to the Orlando Air Base baseball team for an exhibition game against the Washington Senators at Tinker Field. I would love to discover anything that would connect such a legend to the Bolling team.
A recurring statement often read on Chevrons and Diamonds is that further research and time are required to break through the mystery, pushing beyond the dead-ends and brick walls that I have reached with my efforts up to this point.
- Lowe and Campbell Sporting Goods Building NRHP Registration Application
- Catalog – Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods, 1935 – 1936
- L&C Vintage Clothing – Online Sales Listings
- Made In Chicago Museum – Wilson Sporting Goods
Lowe and Campbell vintage sports uniform examples:
- 1929 Notre Dame Football Sideline Jacket
- 1930’s Game-Worn/ Used Basketball Uniform – Jersey & Trunks
- 1948 London Olympics Team USA Rowing Uniform Items – Gold Medalist Lloyd Butler
- 1950s Ararat Shrine All-Star Uniform – 1956 Olympic Gold Medalist, Dick Boushka
(Postscript: Sometimes, my research uncovers fascinating facts that while contextual with my interests, further energy would take me into a different direction. What I discovered appears to be the only piece of Bolling Field baseball history that is available online. This fantastic snippet regarding a Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps veteran, Sergeant Theresa M. Dischler, who also played for the WAAC baseball team at the air field during her time in the service of her country.
Posted on April 16, 2018, in Equipment, Uniforms, WWII and tagged Bolling Field, L&C Label, Lowe and Campbell Athletic Goods, MacDill Field, Military Baseball, United States Army Air Forces Baseball team, USAAF, Vintage Jerseys, Vintage Military Baseball Uniforms, World War II Baseball, WWII, WWII Baseball. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.