Since 1941, Wilson Sporting Goods has made every football caught in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants

Odell Beckham’s (New York Giants) famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.

The Story of Wilson Footballs

The NFL is the only major sports league whose balls are made entirely in America.

The partnership between Wilson Sporting Goods and the National Football League is believed to be one of the longest in sports history. The NFL’s George Halas and Tim Mara were impressed with Wilson’s craftsmanship, leather quality, lock-stitch seams, and overall performance, and adopted them as the official football in 1941. “The Duke,” as this official ball is called, has been produced in Wilson’s factories ever since.

decades

Decades of famous football catches: Don Hutson (Green Bay Packers, 1945); Dwight Clark (San Francisco 49ers, 1982); David Tyree (New York Giants, 2008).

Made in Ada, Ohio

The Wilson Football Factory is the world’s only dedicated football factory.

In 1955, Wilson purchased an existing sporting goods factory in Ada, Ohio–a town of about 6,000 people. According to their website, Wilson immediately streamlined its facilities to manufacture footballs alone, allowing it to specialize and innovate in making the “highest quality footballs ever produced.”

Today, about 130 Wilson employees make about 4,000 balls every day, or 700,000 each year. Employees average about 20 years at the Ada factory, and seem to take a genuine pride in the quality of their craftsmanship. Nothing is automated, as every step from cutting the cowhide to tying tight laces is done by hand.

The Making of…

cowhide

An average of ten footballs are made from a single cowhide.

The footballs get their start as cows raised in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. As their leather is more resistant to stretching, lean steers are preferred over dairy cows. The cowhides first go to a tannery, where they’re treated with the “Wilson exclusive recipe.” Once they arrive at Ada, they’re immediately put into production:

1 cutting panels

Michelle Burkett cuts the cowhide into panels.

1panels pre-assembly

Panels are then bundled into sets of four.

sewing

Jane Hesler sews sets of four panels and linings together. Jane worked at the factory for almost 50 years before a recent retirement.

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After the football has been steamed and softened, Jim Gatchel turns it right side out.

2team names stamped

54 footballs are made for every Super Bowl game, each stamped with teams, date, and location.

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After the bladders are inserted, lacers then tightly sew the laces.

5molding press

Doris Kast places laced balls into a molding press for pumping and final shaping.

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June Hamilton inspects completed balls before they’re shipped out of the factory.

Meet the Makers

The dedication and humor of the Wilson football factory team is truly inspiring. Meet Willie Smith, bladder maker for 27 years (with a top-secret bladder-production process), and other Wilson makers:

“Our people are passionate about what they do, and that’s why we make the best football in the world.” says Dan Riegle, Wilson Football Factory Manager.

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Photos by Rick Osentoski for The Baltimore Sun, Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times, and Kenton Today.