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Wilson: Manufacturing Footballs for the NFL


Every autumn, millions of Americans look forward to watching NFL football on the weekends. The games are played in sold-out stadiums, watched on televisions in homes and sports bars coast to coast, and discussed on web sites, in newspapers, and in schools and workplaces everywhere. Amid football’s popularity, surprisingly little attention is paid to where the footballs actually come from, and therein lies a Great Manufacturing Story.

The footballs used in the NFL are manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods in Ada, Ohio, a small college town that is home to Ohio Northern University. The factory, which produces 3,000 to 4,000 footballs per day, is the only leather-football factory in the U.S. and the only plant in the country dedicated exclusively to making footballs. It employs about 120 people.

The leather for the balls comes from cows that are raised in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Most of the work done in Ada – cutting cowhide into panels, sewing them inside out, steaming them, and lacing them – is done by hand. Wilson has been making footballs in Ada since 1955, and the employees have, on average, more than 20 years of service time at the plant. Their commitment to quality and consistency is the first step in the great NFL games that are played every autumn Sunday.