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A Match Made in America: Carhartt and Baseball

By Dave J. Moore, Brand Archivist and Historian

It’s that time of year again, folks. Time to dust off your cleats, oil up your glove, and get out on the diamond. We’re huge baseball fans here at Carhartt, so we thought why not dig into the archive to feature some great historical connections between our brand and America’s pastime? And I’ll tell ya, we didn’t come up wanting. From product, to employee events, to sponsorships (and even the location of our original factory), the bond runs deep.

Hamilton Carhartt’s first pair of overalls may have been sewn in a small Detroit loft, but it wasn’t long until demand grew and he expanded to a larger facility. This factory was located at Michigan Avenue and Tenth Street, only a few blocks away from the famed intersection of Michigan and Trumbull.

enlarge image Artist rendering of Detroit factory, circa 1925
Artist rendering of Detroit factory, circa 1925

If you know a Detroiter, they’ll likely be happy to tell you all about Tigers baseball at “The Corner.” I personally remember buying one dollar bags of peanuts before taking a journey across the I-75 footbridge to many a sundrenched afternoon game. Tiger Stadium was the last namesake of this legendary spot, but it was previously known as Briggs Stadium, Navin Field, and, when Hamilton set up shop, Bennett Park.

enlarge image 1907 World Series at Bennett Park (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)
1907 World Series at Bennett Park (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Bennett Park was home to some great baseball talent in the late 1800s. There was one team among the amateur competitors that stood out to me as I was researching back issues of the Detroit Free Press: the Hamilton Carhartt Baseball Club. It seems that Hamilton decided to sponsor a semi-pro team and support the league that played just across the street from his factory.

enlarge image Carhartt factory (upper left) and Navin Field, circa 1935
Carhartt factory (upper left) and Navin Field, circa 1935

On one particular day in 1896 they faced off against members of the Detroit Wheelmen, an evolution of the Detroit Bicycle Club – the city’s first. It was a pretty sweet deal to work at Carhartt in these days, since employees were admitted to the games free of charge. There seems to be a gap in information about the baseball club around the turn of the century, but the Free Press announced the triumphant reorganization of the team in late March 1907. The article even included a call from Manager Fred Gross and Captain Nick Collins asking specific players to report to the Carhartt factory.

In addition to dabbling in baseball sponsorships, Carhartt promoted baseball at company events as well. In June 1901, roughly 450 factory employees took a boat to Tashmoo Park, an amusement park located on Harsens Island in Lake St. Clair. It was a regular recreation destination for Detroiters. According to the Free Press, “The Hamilton Carhartt Juniors crossed bats with the Hamilton Carhartt Seniors, and defeated them by a score of 16 to 14.”

enlarge image Steamer Tashmoo at dock, circa 1901 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection)
Steamer Tashmoo at dock, circa 1901 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection)

Flash forward to 1957, when the influence of baseball was first reflected in the Carhartt product line. Enter the Sportster, a “Baseball Type Washable Cap for Work or Play.” You could pick it up in tan, grey, green, black, or navy. Clearly the Sportster was a pretty important addition to the line, because the first “model” for this product was Robert Valade, grandson-in-law of founder Hamilton Carhartt. He worked in various departments throughout the company before assuming the role of president in 1958.

enlarge image Robert Valade in the Sportster cap, circa 1957
Robert Valade in the Sportster cap, circa 1957

When visiting Carhartt’s facility in Irvine, Kentucky, where we have been continuously producing workwear since 1932, I was lucky enough to meet a retired sewing employee who had produced these caps. You know you’re proud of your work when you keep one around to show off!

enlarge image Sportster cap sewed in Irvine, Kentucky
Sportster cap sewed in Irvine, Kentucky
enlarge image Sportster cap tag
Sportster cap tag

Now, we bring our connection with baseball into the present day as we launch our collaboration with ’47 Brand. No matter who you root for, you can do it sporting a Carhartt cap with your team’s logo on it. As a guy who went to great lengths to support the game in his home town, we think Hamilton would be pretty darn proud to see his legendary duck fabric on baseball fans everywhere. Let’s play ball, folks.

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