After the 1899 merger, United grew rapidly. By 1910, it had an eighty percent share of the shoe machinery market, with assets reaching forty million dollars, and it had acquired control of branch companies in foreign countries. USMC was headquartered in Boston, and its main manufacturing plant was in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Starting as early as 1949, the company undertook three experiments to create a baseball stitching machine: These three projects document experimental work in the area of baseballs, specifically automatic controls, component inserting, and stitching. The objective of the experimental projects was “to develop a suitable baseball covering equipment for mechanizing to the greatest practical extent both parts of the present discretionary hand lasting-lacing operation.”
The full development included an analysis of the hand procedure and how each portion of that work would be handled. The ball starts as a round cushioned cork center called a "pill" then is wrapped tightly in windings of wool and polyester/cotton yarn, and then covered by stitched cowhide. The process of assembling a baseball involved two types of workers: assemblers (who assembled the core parts of the baseball) and sewers (who stitched the cowhide covers onto the baseball by hand). There were 108 stitches in the cowhide leather of each ball, and each was done by hand.
Research personnel at USMC recognized that this development would be extremely difficult and expensive. Indeed, from July 1950 to November 1961, the total expense of the project was $343,000. In 1950, the economics of baseball stitching were detailed in a cost chart. The labor rate for lacing was $0.15 – $0.20 per ball, with a production rate of five to six balls per hour. Clearly, mechanizing would increase the production dramatically.
Very little consideration had been given to the mechanization of conditioning and preparation of baseball covers for machine stitching (this being the case both inside and outside the company). All attempts that we know of have been principally with the mechanization of the stitching.
Engineers at USMC broke down the problem into five areas: cover assembly (lasting); needle threading; start of stitching (anchoring the first stitch); stitching or lacing; and lastly, final stitching (final thread anchoring).
Previous automated machines exhibited two serious problems: they were unable to start or stop the stitching process without manual assistance, and they were unable to vary the tension of the stitches. From 1950 to 1955, the basic model work was conducted, resulting in equipment that demonstrated the operations.