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.
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 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:
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.