February 18: The Wiffle Ball Takes Flight


One summer evening in 1953, David N. Mullany, a father, former college baseball player, and recently laid off salesman, was watching his son attempt to play baseball with his friends in the backyard of their Fairfield, Connecticut home when a curious idea came to him.  The boys were playing with a broomstick and tennis ball, fearing that a regular baseball would be more likely to fly out of the modestly-sized backyard and damage a neighbor’s window or car.  Mullany began thinking of the ideal ball for pickup games played in a typical suburban backyard: Something resilient and lightweight (in case the ball flew over the fence), but still aerodynamic enough to mimic the motions of a real baseball.

Mullany began experimenting with some round, plastic cases used by a local company to package perfumes, and soon discovered that punching holes in one side of the light, plastic spheres made them more aerodynamic and gave the pitcher the ability to easily throw curveballs and spinners based on his or her grip, and the invention we now know as the  WIFFLE® Ball was born on August 17, 1953.  Mullany offered a number of these new perforated, plastic “baseballs” for sale at a nearby diner, and after they quickly sold out, he took out a loan in order to produce them on a larger scale.  Not even a year later, on February 18, 1954, Mullany filed a patent for his innovative “game ball,” which he later renamed the “Wiffle ball” in reference to how easy it was for pitchers to control their throws in ways that would make batters  “whiff” – that is, swing at and miss – their pitches.

The Wiffle Ball, Inc. company was incorporated on May 27, 1954. It didn’t take long for the Wiffle ball’s popularity to soar among the Baby Boomer generation, and as Mullany’s company expanded, he moved production to nearby Shelton, Connecticut, where more than 60 million Wiffle balls have been manufactured ever since.  Today, the iconic toy that forever redefined backyard sports is as popular as ever, with children of all ages — and plenty of adults — playing in organized Wiffle Ball leagues and tournaments.  The Wiffle Ball, Inc. is still headquartered in Shelton and managed by Mullany’s descendants, who have bucked the late 20th century trend of outsourcing plastic manufacturing and are proud to point out that every Wiffle ball ever made has been manufactured in Connecticut.  An All-American icon and beloved childhood toy became a home-run for millions, beginning today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Jeannine Henderson-Shifflett, “Wiffle Throws a Curve in American Leisure Time,” connecticuthistory.org

Marc Santora, “What’s 50, Curvy And Full of Air?; It’s the Wiffle Ball, Still Popular, Holes and All,New York Times archives