Philly Block Project

J.D. Shibe & Co. Baseball Manufacturers

Benjamin Franklin Shibe was born on January 23, 1838, on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia. Poorly educated and handicapped by a childhood accident that required him to wear a steel brace on his leg, Shibe took a job as a conductor on a Philadelphia horse car. Soon after, he worked in a leather novelty establishment with a family member. There he made things such as whips and leather watch fobs. When the Confederacy’s Army of North Virginia briefly entered Pennsylvania in July 1863, Shibe answered the call for emergency volunteers to protect the city, joining the Pennsylvania 51st Infantry Regiment. After the crisis passed, the 51st Regiment was mustered out in September, 1863. It is unlikely that Shibe saw any combat during his brief career as a soldier. By 1870 Shibe was working as a conductor on the Philadelphia City Railroad.
With baseball’s popularity on the rise following the end of the Civil War, Shibe joined his brother John and nephew Dan, who had worked for a company that made cricket balls, in founding John D. Shibe & Co., which made baseballs for children and professionals. The company churned out many different brands of balls, such as the skyrocket, Bounding Rock, Red Dead Balls, Red Stocking and the Cock-of-the Walk. Their company supplied others, such as Alfred J. Reach, from the company of Reach & Johnson. Reach and Shibe were friends, and by 1882 Benjamin Shibe and A.J. Reach formed a new company, Reach & Shibe. However, John Shibe believed the name related to Ben’s former affiliation, so the name was changed to A.J. Reach and Company. They soon left the retailing part behind and concentrated on manufacturing. Occupying a huge factory, they had over 1,000 employees and controlled their industry. By 1883, the Reach factory was making 1.3 million baseballs and 100,000 bats per year.

History via Society for American Baseball Research.