It’s a sure bet that when J. Frederick Hillerich emigrated from Germany in 1842, making an impact on America’s favorite pastime — baseball — was the furthest things from his mind.

Settling in Louisville, J. Fred started a woodworking shop in 1856. Within a few short years, “J.F. Hillerich, Job Turning” was in operation and filling orders for businesses by custom-turning everything from decorative support posts, tenpins and wooden bowling balls to bedposts and a very popular, patented, swinging butter churn. 

It was J. Fred’s eldest son John Andrew “Bud” Hillerich, an amateur baseball player and an apprentice in his father’s shop who started making baseball bats for his teammates and himself — at least that’s the legend and the one guides tell at the beginning of the factory tour. 

When Louisville’s professional players started requesting more of the quality bats, other teams began sending in orders and Bud continued to improve the manufacturing processes.

Their baseball bat business continued to grow and the brand name — Louisville Slugger — was registered as a trademark in 1894.

Walking past men and women in the factory, the bat-making process is explained and additional history about the legendary factory is told. 

In 1919 the company launched its first national advertising campaign and in just four years was producing one million bats a year.

“Professional baseball players have their bats custom made here,” the guide said as his small group slowly walked past workers. Automated lathe machines make the bats, but professional bats are custom made with specifics set by pro players.

Several rows of signatures, mirrored in metal to be used on custom bats, line one wall looking much like rows of time cards.

At the end of the tour, everyone receives a small Louisville Slugger bat.

The Museum

There are several historic baseball exhibits in the museum section of the facility. One display features the Louisville Slugger bat used by Joe DiMaggio during his 56-game hitting streak of 1941 along with a special area where visitors can hold game-used bats from superstars — past and present.

Another display showcases a Louisville Slugger bat used by Babe Ruth during his 60 home run season of 1927.

The location is well-marked by the World’s Biggest Baseball Bat that casually leans against the side of the building. 

The museum and factory are located at 800 West Main Street in downtown Louisville.

For more information, check the website http://www.sluggermuseum.org/default.aspx.

If you visit:

The Seelbach Hilton Hotel, located in downtown Louisville at 500 South 4th Street, is a beautifully restored hotel built more than a century ago. 

Appearing on the National Register of Historical Places, this 4-diamond luxury hotel is considered the premiere hotel in the state of Kentucky. F. Scott Fitzgerald used The Seelbach as a backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding in The Great Gatsby.

For more information check the website at www.seelbachhilton.com.

The Seelbach also features The Oakroom. This restaurant is Kentucky’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant.

In addition to the excellent service and cuisine, guests are surrounded by décor of another era.

For reservations and other information, check the website at http://www.theoakroomlouisville.com/.