Bowling may be the sport that made Milwaukee famous. But it was another Wisconsin town that supplied a key ingredient to the sport – the pins.
The Vulcan Corporation initially manufactured wooden shoe lasts in Ohio and eventually chose Antigo as its headquarters because of the region’s robust lumber industry, plentiful supply of large maple trees, and railroad connections.
When demand for shoe lasts waned in the 1940s, Vulcan branched tried various other wood products. They didn’t stop making shoe lasts until the mid-1960s but bowling pins became their primary industry in 1953.
Bowling became increasingly popular after World War II. Where once bowling had been a largely male sport, bowling became a sport for people of all ages in the late 1940s. The advent of the automatic pinsetter also made the game faster and led to the growth in the number of alleys and thus the need for bowling pins. By the late 1950s, 20% of all bowling lanes in the U.S. used pins manufactured by Vulcan.
Bowling pins have always been made exclusively of sugar maple, as specified by the American Bowling Congress, based in Milwaukee from 1905 to 2008. Vulcan used trees from within a 60-mile radius of Antigo. When Vulcan devised its “Nyl-Tuf” coating to help prolong the life of bowling pins, they needed the approval of the coating from the American Bowling Congress. This happened in 1959 and within 10 weeks, Vulcan held a ceremony marking the production of its 50,000th pin.
In 1967, Vulcan employed about 100 men in Antigo. It was the second largest bowling pin manufacturer in the United States. The company relocated its head offices to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1970. It kept operations in Antigo into the 21st century.
This story was produced in partnership with Wisconsin 101, a collaborative effort to share Wisconsin’s story in objects. Learn more about the project and the bowling pin here.