PostHeaderIcon Spalding? No, Browning!

ImprovementEra 1912 Baseball adMost of us today, when we think of the baseball equipment of years ago (and even today), think of Spalding, the manufacturer founded by Albert Spalding Jr. in 1876. But he wasn’t the only manufacturer, and the Mormon population in Utah apparently had their own local company: Browning. The advertisement above comes from the 1912 Improvement Era, an official publication of the LDS Church that is roughly the equivalent of the Ensign today. At the time advertisements were in every LDS publication—they were eliminated with the reorganization of LDS publications in 1972.

I find two things about this ad fascinating. First is the name of the company. Browning is best known today as the name of a line of fire arms. The Browning Arms Company was founded by LDS Church member Val Browning in 1927 in Ogden, Utah to carry on the gun design and manufacturing business founded by his father, John Moses Browning, and built on the training of his grandfather, Mormon pioneer Jonathan Browning, who owned a gun shop in Nauvoo.

So is this Browning Bros. Co. another venture of John Moses Browning? Or was it founded by some of his brothers? I don’t know yet. But given that it was located in Ogden, it seems likely that it is related somehow. And given that Jonathan Browning was a polygamist and settler in Ogden, there were probably a few Browning brothers there to establish the company.

The second thing that interests me is the age listed below the glove in the ad. It claims 37 years—presumably the age of the company. If so, then Browning Bros. Co. was established in 1875, a year before Spalding and relatively soon after the beginning of organized baseball in Utah in the 1860s. It seems likely that, because of its location, Browning Bros. Co. was the manufacturer of the balls and gloves used in baseball in Utah for many years. [Unless, of course, there was another manufacturer in Utah.]

That’s a lot to surmise from a single ad. But it gives me a place to start—somewhere to look for more information about the history of baseball among Mormons. If you know something that might help fill out this story, or anything else about Mormons in baseball or baseball among Mormons, I’m interested.

4 Responses to “Spalding? No, Browning!”

  • John Mansfield says:

    Here’s a fictional tidbit. It’s not much, just a bit of color in a novel, but it does put Mormons and baseball together in 1915. This is from Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome (2008). The setting is train to California crossing Missouri.

    “Few things lift spirits like a boisterous dining coach – – this one smelled of bacon, coal oil, citrus, scorched porridge. Racks of limes and pale oranges hung behind the counter. We took a booth just being vacated by a police detective with a handcuffed lout in his custody; the gospel fellows [a singing group] were there, laughing to draw the attention of two blondes eating pancakes; plus a tribe of Mormons engaged in shrewd debate about the great Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson, who refused to pitch on Sundays. Say what you like about their doctrine, these elders knew their baseball.”

    The Mormons never reappear, and baseball is only again mentioned once several chapters later.

    • Kent Larsen says:

      John, that’s great! What a find!

      I wonder if Enger based that on anything, of if he just made it up completely.

      For those who may not know, Mathewson, still considered one of the greatest baseball pitchers ever, was known as the “Christian Gentleman” because of his standards and courtesy.

      The more interesting idea is that the “elders knew their baseball”–I’d imagine most Mormon missionaries from 1915 hadn’t set foot outside of Utah before their missionary service, so their baseball knowledge would have to come entirely from local play and from reading periodicals.

  • Ken says:

    RE: “So is this Browning Bros. Co. another venture of John Moses Browning? Or was it founded by some of his brothers? I don’t know yet.”

    “John M. Browning’s father, Jonathon Browning, was a pioneer and an innovative gun designer himself. Before coming to Utah by wagon train as one of thousands of Mormon pioneers in the 1850s, Jonathon owned a gunsmithing and gunmaking shop in Nauvoo, Illinois.”

    “The business known as the Browning Arms Company was officially organized in Ogden, Utah, under that name in 1927, a year after its most famous namesake, John Moses Browning, died. In actuality, the Browning organization had been around as early as Jonathan Browning’s arrival in Utah and the establishment of his gun shop in Ogden in 1852. With the death of Jonathan, his son John Moses Browning became the head of the family’s gunsmithing business, and with his brothers – Matthew, Jonathan Edmund, Thomas Samuel, William, and George – established in 1872 the Browning Brothers Company with its shop and retail store in Ogden.”

    “THOMAS SAMUEL BROWNING, son of Jonathan and Ann Emmett Browning, was born in Ogden, Utah, April 15, 1860. He received his education in the public schools of Ogden, as a young man he was always intensely active in athletic sports, and was noted as one of the best baseball players in Utah, often assisting the Salt Lake City baseball club in some of its most important games with clubs from other states. Mr. Browning was associated with his brothers in Browning Brothers Company, in the manufacture of guns and selling sporting goods of every description. From 1888 to 1900 he was manager of the Salt Lake City branch of the Browning Company.”

    You will find a 1902 Browning Bros baseball bat advertisement in the 1901 and 1902 “Zion’s Young People” magazine.

Leave a Reply