September 5, 2011

"Many people might figure that a cheap plastic toy like a Wiffle Ball is made elsewhere, in someplace like China."

"After all, how can American companies compete on the cost of labor for little plastic toys? But that assumption would be wrong — every Wiffle Ball ever made has come from Shelton, Conn."


AllenS said...

I had one. Man, could I ever throw a curveball.

Conserve Liberty said...

Bet you think NOTHING is manufactured in the US any more.

Bet you didn't know that, with 300MM of the 7000MM people on Earth we manufacture 21% of the world's manufactured goods. (50 years ago it was 60%)

Bet you didn't know that 7% of the civilian labor force is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. (40 years ago it was 27%)

Bet you didn't know that, since 1980, computers and robots have replaced more American workers in American businesses than overseas workers have replaced American workers in American businesses. (Productivity sucks, doesn't it?)

Until 1990 we were a car manufacturing economy.

Until 2006 we were a house manufacturing economy.

What manufactured goods have you bought recently - aside from a Wiffle Ball and bat?

Just sayin'

ndspinelli said...

Wow..thanks for this piece, professor. It is very nostalgic. The highway the Wiffle Ball factory sits near is Route 8. That building is not the original. The first building was just a large garage. Wiffle Ball took off in the northeast first then moved across the nation. On the trips my old man would take us to Yankee Stadium we would drive by the Wiffle Ball factory. We always meant to stop just to look around, my parents were factory workers and were fascinated w/ how things were made. Alas, we never stopped.

Allen S, you're so correct. I was a baseball pitcher but had a horseshit curveball. When we played Wiffle Ball I was Koufax!

IggyRules said...

Eww, a link to NPR.
Here's the link to the story NPR pirated:

Interesting facts Conserve Liberty - thanks

Henry said...

It's manual finish work that requires cheap labor in China, not automated production. That is why incandescent bulbs used to be made in the United States and fluorescent turd-shaped bulbs are made in China.

Charlie said...

Like Gibson Guitar, I'm sure the US Government will be looking to shut them down any day now.

Triangle Man said...

What manufactured goods have you bought recently - aside from a Wiffle Ball and bat?

A nice Trek "made" in Waterloo, WI.

edutcher said...

Trying to field a Wiffle Ball that's been hit hard is one of the great challenges of youth.

Funny, though, I can't envision the young Althouse girls, in their starched white linen dresses, tossing around a Wiffle Ball.

campy said...

A nice Trek "made" in Waterloo, WI.

The frame, sure. What about every other part of the bike?

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

I grew up in Orange, CT, the next town east of Shelton, and received a Wiffle Ball and plastic bat for my 5th birthday in 1954. It must have been one of the early ones, and my father was quite happy for me to have it since my side-yard efforts at hitting baseballs I tossed into the air had resulted in several broken windows.

On a separate-but-related note, US manufacturing has approximately doubled since 1983. In absolute terms, but not as a percentage of an economy whose numbers have been increasingly hijacked by finance rather than production.

The robotics point, too, is well taken, and not just here in the USA. Roughly 20% of Chinese manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the last five years.

I'm not sure the disappearance of manufacturing jobs is necessarily a bad thing. Back when I received my first Wiffle Ball the US steel industry had about a quarter-million workers to produce something like 70 million tons of steel. It was hot, filthy, very dangerous work.

These days we're down to something under 50,000 steelworkers, but they produce over 100 million tons of the stuff.

On this Labor Day, nobody should be upset that we no longer employ union workers to stand at the base of a blast furnace and shovel coal.

Dad29 said...

Those green, or white, or blue plastic lawn-chairs, the one-piece 'stackables' which also come with matching plastic 'ottomans'?

Made in Wisconsin. About four (!!) men run the operation, which produces ~20,000 items/day. They switch colors and styles with a button to match demand precisely every 15 minutes or so.

John said...

Whiffle balls are, I would imagine, injection molded from polyethylene.

Injection molding is a pretty standard, automated process. Not a lot of labor in it.

The important costs would be cost of resin which is probably a bit more in the US. Cost of electricity.

Injection molding is a dirt simple process (Though the details can be very complex). I could set up a single machine injection molding operation in my garage for $20-30m (Thousand, for the numerically challenged.)

One person could tend 3-4 machines which would crank out the little balls continuously.

John Henry

John said...

I've spent my professional life in manufacturing. Since I was in sales and now consulting, across a wide range of industries and locations.

The unskilled manufacturing jobs that many lament, for the most part, are not all that great. They are not much better than working in WalMart or McDonalds in terms of either pay or interesting work.

I am reading Crash Course, about the auto industry, and it mentions that in 1965, when the Chrysler Belvedere IL assembly plant opened, unskilled line workers earned $1.65/hour.

That was not very much even then for mind numbing, body breaking work.

Thank God for robots and automation.

John Henry

cokaygne said...

Working in a factory sucks. Been there, done that. Some unions in some industries were part of oligopolies that manufactured things like cars and steel because during WWII the other industrial nations were blown to bits. Leaders in those unions liked the idea of lifetime employment plus a generous pension for jobs done by high school dropouts whose fathers had the same jobs. Any time some factory worker's kid had a chance to go to college, she or he took out and got the hell out, eventually making roughly the same money in a job where they could talk to other people in a normal voice and not go home covered with sweat and grease at the end of the day. The Chinese do it because it beats herding pigs all day.

Conserve Liberty said...

A nice Trek "made" in Waterloo, WI.

Yeah - the frame welds are very nicely done on TREKs - actually a work of art. Prime example of high quality American work.

Most people don't realize that the 50 - 300 employee shop (small business) is the backbone of American manufacturing. Autos and steel and white goods are visible but relatively few work directly in those industries. It takes lots of TREK's to put people to work.

Our neighborhood is rapidly turning over as the 55-ish empty-nesters who were here when we moved in have become elderly. We've purchased quite a lot of high quality, North Carolina furniture from the estate sales.

Not good for current cabinetmakers, though.

Jake said...

Been in the international shipping business for 20 years. As such, I go to factories all over the country and the world all the time. If there's one thing that drives me nuts, it's the constant meme that America doesn't produce anything. We have by far the most productive manufacturing sector in the world. It beats the he'll out of Germany and China, the other two leaders. Manufacturing employment is going the same way as agricultural employment. In case no one has noticed, the US still has the largest output of agricultural products in the world, but farm employment only accounts for 2% of total jobs. The factory that produces all the Corvette transmissions has fewer than twenty employees. And by the way, China has lost way more manufacturing jobs than the US in the past five years, while increasing output in the double digits.