The company traces its roots to the Schwarzchild & Sulzberger company (later changed to Sulzbeger & Son’s) based in New York City that operated meat packing plants in New York, Chicago and Kansas City. Sulzberger founded the Ashland Manufacturing Company in 1913 to use animal by-products from its slaughterhouses. It started out making tennis racket strings, violin strings, and surgical sutures but soon expanded into baseball shoes and tennis racquets. In 1915, Thomas E. Wilson, former president of meatpacker Morris & Company, was appointed President and renamed the company Thomas E. Wilson Company. The company acquired the Hetzinger Knitting Mills to produce athletic uniforms and a caddie bag company which produced golf balls but soon expanded into footballs and basketballs. In 1918, Wilson left to concentrate on the beef-packing business, changing the Sulzberger company to Wilson & Co. (which would ultimately become Iowa Beef Packers and then be taken over by Tyson Foods). The packing company continued to have control in the company until 1966 when it was sold to LTV. Under new president L. B. Icely it acquired the Chicago Sporting Goods Company and struck a deal to supply the Chicago Cubs. It also hired Arch Turner, a leather designer who would design the leather football.
In 1922, it introduced the Ray Schalk catcher’s mitt which became the standard. It worked with Knute Rockne to introduce the double-lined leather football and first valve football and the first waist-line football pants with pads. In 1925, it was renamed Wilson-Western Sporting Goods following a distribution agreement with Western Sporting Goods. After Rockne’s death, the company focused on golf, introducing the R-90, a sand wedge golf club inspired by Gene Sarazen’s victory in the 1932 British Open. In 1931, it renamed itself Wilson Sporting Goods Company. During World War II it introduced the Wilson Duke football, featuring the best leather, ends that were hand-sewn, lock-stitch seams, and triple lining, which was adopted as the official ball of the National Football League. Horween Leather Company has supplied Wilson with pebbled cowhide since 1941. Wilson is Horween Leather Company’s largest customer, using the company’s leather in manufacturing footballs and basketballs. After the war it focused on tennis and signed Jack Kramer who developed its line of Jack Kramer signed tennis rackets.