Tools of Ignorance

“Tools of Ignorance?” That’s what some folks call a baseball catchers gear. Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, Jorge Posada, Joe Mauer, Roy Campanella, Elston Howard. Baseball catchers all. And they all have relied on a Connecticut invention to keep them safe when crouching behind the plate. The catchers chest protector.

March 25th, is the anniversary of the granting of Patent # 295543 in 1884 for a Body-Protector, otherwise known today as a chest protector.  William Gray (born 1850 in Tarriffville) was the inventor of this vital part of catching  gear.  Mr. Gray was an apparently an ardent baseball fan when he was living and working in Hartford during the late 19th century. (He worked for both Colt and Pratt and Whitney during their early days, which I think is very cool…..) When he wasn’t in the factory he was inventing. A “Sand Handle Base-Ball Bat” was another of his inventions. While that one didn’t set the baseball world on fire, his body protector sure did. His patent was bought by Spalding, the leader in baseball gear at the time, and was soon featured in their catalogues and baseball guides…..

The protector consisted of pneumatic ribs that could be inflated as needed by the catcher. According to the Spalding description of it “this body protector renders it impossible for the catcher to be injured while playing close to the batter” and it does not “interfere in any way with the movement of the wearer, either in running, stooping or throwing.”

Spalding Base Ball Guide 1889, Page 175, Courtesy Library of Congress

But this isn’t Mr. Gray’s most famous invention. Not by a long shot. That honor would have to be his “Coin Controlled Apparatus for Telephones” aka the “pay phone”. Yep, the same guy that invented the pay telephone invented the catcher’s chest protector! But that’s a Connecticut Invents! story for another day…….


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