"Australian Tennis Legend (Lew Hoad)"
"Australian Tennis Legend (Ken Rosewall)"
"Wimbledon Cup"
"U-50 Tournament Grade"
"Crescent 48-06"
"Wright & Ditson Championship (Military)"
"Wisden's" (4-ball can)
"The Slazenger" (6-ball can)
"University"
"Championship"
"Nassau Yellow"
"X-76 YHD Extra-Duty"
"Cortland Championship"
"Championship"
"Super T's Yellow"

Tennis balls are a critical element of the sport. Yet to the average person, they may seem boring. They are all round, composed of similar materials, and share the same dimensions. However, their containers are a different story. Tennis ball containers come in a variety of styles, sizes and materials, ranging from the twelve-ball metal buckets, six-ball cardboard cartons to the more familiar four-ball and three-ball cans. More than mere storage devices, these colorful containers chronicle the history of tennis, its players, organizations, competitions, and changing technology.

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Collection 1

Early Tennis Ball Containers

From the 1880s until about 1930, tennis balls were sold in paper bags or cardboard boxes, and occasionally metal boxes. To improve bounce, gas was forced into the balls during manufacture, but since the pressure was greater inside than outside it was only a matter of time before the balls went flat.

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Collection 2

Early Pressurized Containers

In the late 1920s Thomas E. Wilson & Co. and the Pennsylvania Rubber Company, respectively, began manufacturing the first pressurized metal tubes for preserving the shelf life of tennis balls. The air pressure in the can was increased to equal the pressure in the ball. As long as the can was sealed, no gas escaped, guaranteeing freshness. Once the can was opened, however, the balls would eventually go flat.

These early cans can be identified by their flat tops and a solder spot on the lid or bottom where pressurized gas was injected. They were opened by winding a thin metal strip on a key, a process familiar to sardine-lovers.  Keys were attached to cans in a variety of locations: some are attached to the lid, some recessed into the bottom, and others were attached to the side. British tins often had lids that could be reused. Opening an American can, however, left opposing sharp edges, making reuse of the lid impossible. 

3

Collection 3

World War II Era Ball Containers

World War II created a severe shortage of crude rubber and steel. Tennis ball companies had to legally adjust their manufacturing process. Once they depleted their existing stock of metal cans, they switched to cardboard tubes, boxes and paper bags for packaging. In regards to tennis balls, they began using recycled or synthetic rubber as a substitute for crude rubber from East Asia.  Plain paper labels, “Victory” labels, and drab olive green cans were common.

4

Collection 4

Post WWII through 1960s

With metal no longer being reserved for the war effort, metal cans came back on the market. Though they still were opened with a key, the big change for American-made cans were that lids could be snapped back on top.

The balls made from recycled rubber that entered the market during the war years proved popular due to their prolonged playing life and continued to be made after the war. Another innovation was the introduction of pressureless tennis balls, led by the Swedish company Tretorn, who patented the technology in 1954.

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Collection 5

Tennis Ball Containers from 1970 to the Present

The first big change to the industry was the introduction and wide-scale use of tennis balls in other colors besides the traditional white. Though there had been a history of using red felt (for increased visibility) since about 1930, white was the dominant color choice for both tournament and recreational play.

The shade of tennis ball that is synonymous with the modern game—optic yellow—was introduced by Pennsylvania Rubber Company in mid-1969 and advertised as a visibility aid for playing longer into the evening. By the following year, other companies, such as Slazenger, also began offering that shade in addition to white balls. To market their new offerings, companies clearly advertised and designed their cans to advertise what was inside.

Another manufacturing change to cans, still used today, is the pull-tab metal plate under a re-usable plastic lid. In July 1972, Penn, who had recently shortened their name from Pennsylvania, began advertising their new easy-to-open can in the trade magazines. The other tennis ball manufacturers quickly followed suit.

Though metal cans are still manufactured today, Wilson introduced the plastic can in 1984. They advertised it as the “new Wilson Squeezable Pressure Pack,” a transparent plastic tube so consumers could feel the freshness of the tennis balls contained within simply by squeezing the can.

6

Collection 6

Player Endorsed Tennis Ball Containers

Tennis equipment manufacturers began relationships with the top players as far back as the 1920s, and, in addition to players endorsing racquets, their names and likenesses would also be worked into the design of ball cans. The popularity of professional tennis post-World War II can be seen by the increased use of player endorsements on the can designs.

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Collection 7

Tennis Ball Containers of Various Shapes and Sizes

Throughout this history of the sport, ball containers have come in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes.

FILTER Clear All

Manufacturer
(72) A.G. Spalding & Bros.
(67) Penn Racquet Sports, Inc.
(63) Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
(53) Dunlop
(52) Slazenger
(22) Bancroft Sporting Goods Company
(21) unknown
(16) Wright & Ditson
(14) Sears, Roebuck & Co.
(14) MacGregor
(13) Regent Sports Corporation
(10) Rawlings Sporting Goods Co.
(8) Montgomery Ward
(7) Seamless Rubber Company
(5) R.H. Macy & Co.
(5) King Athletic Goods Corp.
(5) Optimit
(5) Simpson-Sears Ltd.
(4) John Wisden & Co. Ltd.
(4) 1955 Biddle Purchasing Corp.
(4) National Sporting Goods Corp.
(4) Walgreen Co.
(4) Nassau Co. Ltd.
(4) Winn Sports Corp.
(4) Chemold Corp.
(4) Court
(4) General Sportcraft Co. Ltd.
(3) T.M.C.
(3) Harry C. Lee & Co.
(3) Zayre Corp.
(3) Spencer Moulton
(3) The American Import Co.
(3) TRIO Sporting Goods Mfg. Co.
(3) Sports Equipment Corporation
(3) Rexall Drug Company
(3) Title Products Ltd.
(2) A.C. McClurg & Co.
(2) Shanghai Tennis Ball Factory
(2) A.W. Phillips, Ltd.
(2) Tretorn
(2) Swift Flyte
(2) Draper & Maynard Co.
(2) Crown Sports Inc.
(2) Hi-Tens
(2) Pace Setter Marketing
(2) W.J. Voit Rubber Corp.
(2) Equator
(2) Polo Ralph Lauren
(2) The P. Goldsmith Sons Co.
(2) AMC
(2) Court King
(2) E & L Products Mfg. Co.
(2) Goodwin Sporting Goods
(2) Jelinek Sports Ltd.
(2) Azrak-Hamway International, Inc.
(2) International Nineteen, Inc.
(2) Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.
(1) Modell's Davega Stores
(1) Major Sports
(1) Prince Global Sports LLC
(1) Holiday
(1) The Cutino Co.
(1) F.W. Woolworth Co.
(1) Campbell Manufacturing Co. Ltd
(1) F. A. Davis, Ltd.
(1) Paramount Sports
(1) The May Company
(1) Henley's Tyre & Rubber Company
(1) Primo Sporting Goods Inc.
(1) Virginia Slims Tennis
(1) Faultless Rubber Co.
(1) Aqua-Leisure Industries, Inc.
(1) Dunhill Sports
(1) Davega Sports
(1) Caprico International, Inc.
(1) Fu-Jen Chemical
(1) Jollette
(1) Play King
(1) Ten Pro International
(1) LTC
(1) Artuff
(1) Super Tournament
(1) Telnor Systems Corp.
(1) Buckingham Sports Ltd.
(1) Pope & Smith
(1) Red-Line
(1) Bentley's Sporting Goods Limited
(1) Franklin Manufacturing Co. Inc
(1) Pony International
(1) Williams, Ellis & Co. LTD.
(1) Super Pro
(1) Cortland Line Company
(1) Western Auto
(1) Ecsport Sales Corporation
(1) Tru-Play
(1) Kassnar Imports, Inc.
(1) National Recreation Products, Inc.
(1) Snauwaert & Depla N.V.
(1) Continental
(1) Kings Court
(1) Korvettes Products Inc.
(1) Mor-Flite
(1) Goodhall Rubber Co.
(1) Fred Perry Sportswear
(1) Walker International
(1) Tournament Products
(1) Sportcrest
(1) Roos Brothers
(1) Olympic Sporting Goods Co., Inc.
(1) Elgee
(1) Demon
(1) UPA International
(1) J. Price Limited
(1) Butchart Nicholls
(1) M. Sharf & Co.
(1) Seaway Products
(1) ACE Import Co. Inc.
(1) Town and Country Games LTD
Collections
Early Tennis Ball Containers
Early Pressurized Containers
World War II Era Ball Containers
Post WWII through 1960s
Tennis Ball Containers from 1970 to the Present
Player Endorsed Tennis Ball Containers
Tennis Ball Containers of Various Shapes and Sizes
Time Periods
1880s-1920s
1930s
1940s
1950s
1960s
1970s
1980s-present
Additional
Available As Travel Mugs

Come Visit Us

Come experience Tins, Cans and Cartons in person at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. With over 1,900 artifacts of tennis history displayed throughout the exhibit galleries, the museum delivers an engaging visitor experience including our very popular wall of tennis ball cans made up of over 400 of the iconic cartons and tins seen here in this digital exhibit.

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