The Early History Of Baseball Cards

by : Billy Beansprout

The Nineteenth Century

Baseball and photography in the United States were both seeing an explosion of popularity in the mid nineteenth century. This provoked baseball clubs to start taking individual and group pictures of their members. Some of these pictures were printed on smaller cards, much like modern-day, wallet sized photos. In the late 1860s, baseball became a professional sport, and trading cards began to appear with photos of players and teams. These were mainly used as a means of advertisement for companies, who placed an ad on the back of the card.

A sporting goods store in New York, called Peck and Snyder, began production of trading cards featuring teams. As a sporting goods store, baseball cards were the perfect advertisement vehicle for them. The cards produced by Peck and Snyder are often times referred to as the first baseball cards.

A trade card during these times typically featured an image on one side, and a business advertisement on the reverse side. Color printing technology began to increase the attractiveness of baseball cards. Photos began to be seen in black and white as well as sepia. Some baseball cards were printed as playing cards, either for conventional card games or simulations of a baseball game.

By 1886 cigarette packs often included baseball cards in them for promotional purposes as well as the protection of the cigarettes. Baseball had become so popular by the end of the century that production of the baseball cards had not only spread across the Americas, but also into the Pacific Isles.

Early Twentieth Century

The majority of cards being produced were by candy companies and cigarette companies. Breisch-Williams Company, (a Pennsylvania-based confectionary company), produced the first major set of baseball cards of the century in 1903. Soon after, baseball cards were beginning to appear in more and more products. In 1914, Cracker Jack's began using baseball cards as the included prize in the box.

The Twenties to the Fifties

Baseball card production began to fall off during World War I due to the transition to wartime production. This lasted until the late thirties, when the United States began to see the effects of the great depression. During the years in between, production of baseball cards went through the roof. The culmination of this production spike was the Goudey Gum Company's set, produced in 1933.

Again, in 1941, wartime production began to significantly affect the number of baseball cards being produced. In 1948, baseball card production increased once again. The Leaf Candy Company and Bowman Gum introduced the first sets when wartime production came to a halt. During the1950s, Japanese baseball cards associated with the popular Japanese card game, menko, began to flood the market.