Mike Roer

Baseball and Industry Grow Up Together 

In recognizing baseball as a positive element in urban quality of life, Bridgeport businesses have been consistent supporters of the sport. Initially, this included providing equipment and a place for employees to play. There were also women company teams at least as early as 1875 (Bridgeport Standard 8-16-1875).  

Later, during the professional era "Be-for-Bridgeport" companies helped support the team financially, and even closed early for important weekday games.

Wheeler and Wilson Sewing Machine Factory on the East Side of Bridgeport. In the 1860s, Wheeler and Wilson provided ball grounds north of its factory for amateur clubs.  The company, now Singer, was a pioneer in precision manufacturing.


Because visionary leaders in Bridgeport targeted the young sewing machine industry for economic development, companies manufacturing typewriters, record players, automobiles, and airplanes also settled in the Park City to take advantage of the concentration of manufacturing skills. Then companies that made the machines that made the products (e. g. - Bullard and Bodine) set up shop in Bridgeport to be near their customers.


Note the horse railroad above and to the right of the steam engine. This local transit system made it easier for residents to gather for games.  The steam railroad made intercity baseball practical and ushered in the explosive post-Civil War growth of manufacturing and baseball in America.    


Union Prisoners in Salisbury NC, 1863.  Soldiers returning from the Civil War brought back stories, souvenirs, and standardized rules for base ball. Until the War, the game had as many variants as there were towns.  Soldiers often passed the time playing baseball. Actually, they spent most of the time arguing, until they settled on the set of rules as refined and set down in writing a score of years earlier by Alexander Cartwright, the New York inventor of modern baseball. (Some writers attribute the game to Abner Doubleday. Although he was a genuine Civil War hero, his role in developing baseball is a myth spread by sports magnate Al Spalding to give the game a purely American history, distinct from British cricket or rounders.)



After the Civil War, the game spread throughout the country as fast as the railroads.  Within a year, Bridgeport had three clubs; Fairfield had two teams, attracting at times a thousand spectator (Fairfield, 1988, p. 22).  Stratford had two teams (the Osceolas and Tigers); and Derby, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk and Westport all had at least one nine.


These were all amateur clubs.  In the mid 1860s there were no professional baseball teams in Bridgeport, or anywhere. Baseball clubs were more like today's golf clubs. Members gathered on Saturdays and formed into teams for socializing and exercise. Young men like Jim and John O'Rourke (15 and 12 years of age in 1865) played ball at every opportunity.



Eventually, the best team from each town began competing for glory (and side bets), preferably to an audience of impressionable young ladies.   Ever searching for more challenging opponents, the better teams placed "matches wanted" ads in the local newspaper of a target club: a public challenge honor could not ignore.

Annual Baseball Highlights




The American Base Ball club and two other teams were founded in Bridgeport. The Americans were the team to beat. 

Game at Seaside Park in 1865.  Organized baseball emerged in Bridgeport in 1865, the same year Seaside Park was created on land donated by P. T. Barnum, George Bailey, Henry Wheeler, and other leading citizens. Image: Bridgeport Standard. 



An east-west horse railroad was established in Bridgeport along State Street and Stratford Avenue, making it easy for team members and spectators to reach ball grounds. Tram tickets were twenty for $1.00 (Bridgeport Standard 6-16-1868). 


Competition extended to fashion as well. The Bridgeport Standard of 7-31-1866 noted the “Three V. Club were dressed in a neat and tasty fatigue uniform.”


S. M. Cato and W. H. Jones represented Bridgeport at the Tenth Annual Convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players on December 12th at New York (Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player,
1866, p. 45)


A local snake oil salesman named Pendleton put up a silver bat as the prize for the best local team, as determined by a round robin tournament. The Bridgeports emerged the local champions. (Hartford Courant 10-4-1866, p. 1).


The Bridgeport Base Ball Club replaced the Americans as the local champions. The Bridgeports' home grounds were at the foot of Warren Street (later the site of Warnaco.)


“Champion” clubs were determined more often by consensus than by organized round robins. Baseball was somewhat like gunslinging. The better teams and players were called “fast.” If a new team could knock off the top team consistently or in a mutually-agreed-to title match, then the challengers became the new champions.  Hartford and New Haven played a series for a self-proclaimed “State Championship” in Connecticut.

Ad appearing in the Bridgeport Standard of April 20, offering balls, bats, bases, score books and spikes for shoes; but no gloves. Players would have been hooted off the field had they worn hand protection.

Five hand injuries were reported by Bridgeport players in 1867. (No gloves.) 


Spalding Collection; Miriam and Ira Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs; New York Public Library; Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.