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Inside the Museum: what's on our Christmas list?

Museum Tennis Christmas Racquet
by Sarah Kirkham
Tuesday 17 December 2013

Inside the Museum is a blog from the Wimbledon Museum cataloguers, whose task it is to order and organise the Wimbledon Museum's vast and ever-growing collection. This month they tell us what they'd like for Christmas...

Dust off the decorations and order the turkey! Yes, Christmas is well and truly on its way. This means it’s also time for the all important Christmas list!

What will you be asking for this Christmas? The current Apple invention? A bestselling book? How about a Dayton Steel Lawn Tennis Racket? The latest in racket technology! If you were a budding young tennis fan living in America in 1922, this was probably high on the list. Along with other exciting innovations such as a pen with its own self contained ink.

The Dayton steel lawn tennis racket was first produced in 1922 by The Dayton Racquet Company. It was one of several attempts to perfect the metal racket, the first coming as early as the 1880s. The standard racket of the day had a wooden frame with gut string and a leather butt cap. The Dayton racket consisted of a tubular steel frame, usually painted, with twisted wire strings made from piano wire.

It was invented by an American tennis player, William Larned (1872-1926). Larned was a notable member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, competing sporadically between 1902 and 1912. He also participated in The Championships at Wimbledon in 1896 and 1905, reaching the Singles Quarter finals on both occasions.

The racket debuted on the American market in the few months prior to Christmas and soon proved popular. Advertisements were produced to promote the new model. This one depicts Father Christmas holding the Dayton racket with both hands. The text reads “Now – a Racquet that you can give for Christmas”.

However, despite its quick success, it could not compete with the wooden racket and its popularity was short-lived. As with previous models, the Dayton racket experienced some problems, the main one occurring when players served. The racket would emit vibrations along the arm, hindering play. Additionally, as it was strung with piano wire, it would shred the ball and would create a high-pitched note when it came in contact. Players opted to stay with wood.

Metal rackets once again stepped in to the limelight in 1949 with the production of the ‘Silver Fox’ racket manufactured by the umbrella company, Samuel Fox of London. However the problem of vibration was still evident. Its success finally came in 1960 with Rene Lacoste’s design. Instead of the wire being threaded through holes within the outer tubular steel frame, they were wrapped around the head. A plastic shock absorbing handle helped eliminate vibration. The design was later manufactured and sold by Wilson as the ‘Wilson T-2000’ and was famously used by players such as Billie Jean King and Jimmy Connors.

In 1988, no player used a wooden racket at Wimbledon. After a long wait, metal rackets finally dominated the scene. Thankfully we did not have to wait that long for the pen to develop.

So, should we rethink that Christmas list?

From everyone at the Wimbledon Museum, Merry Christmas!

What Museum item might you like on your Christmas list? Let us know in the comments below!


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