|The Jack Kramer Autograph
Wilson Sporting Goods, 1949-1982
Approximately 10 million of the Jack Kramer racquets were produced over its thirty one year history. Another 10 million recreational racquets featuring Jack's image were also produced giving Jack Kramer the longest professional endorsement in sports history.
Among other innovations of the Jack Kramer racquet, in 1953 Wilson introduced the first Kramer racquet with a plastic butt-cap. Previous caps were wrapped in silk. Kramer never quite got used the new caps and Wilson discreetly made his racquets with the old style silk butt cap.
The racquet's hoop was originally composed of seven layers of Ash until it became evident that the wood was too porous and was absorbing water from the air, and subsequently altering the racquets weight and specs during transport from climate to climate. Modifications included using five layers of Maple sandwiched between only two layers of Ash.
Unlike the standard five grip sizes of todays racquets, the Jack Kramer racquet came in 12 different styles; they were- Light 4-1/4, 4-3/8, 4-1/2, 4-5/8, 4-3/4, 4-7/8, and in Medium weight in the same grip sizes.
Collectors place the value of these racquets anywhere from $10 to $40 dollars. If you are persistent you will find several shops with new racquets (never strung) stashed in a closet or attic with a price tag as high as $300.
It was Rich Janes who was in charge of introducing the Jack Kramer Autograph Mid-size in the late 1970's. He continues...
The Jack Kramer Autograph (JKA) was first made by Spalding (for Wilson) in Chicopee, Ma. as well as some in Brattleboro, Vt. Spalding had a special sawmill up in Brattleboro, where they obtained secondary growth white ash, quarter-sawn into strips for the "Strata-Bow" frame. They also used a compressed cotton which was colored red as the second laminate, in order to stop any cracks that might start in the head. They also used the compressed cotton fiber sheets in white to create a white facing, and strengthen the individual laminations in the throat area. Jack Kramer, in his book, mentions that every season he would send his favorite racquet to the "boys at Spalding" in order to have them make him about 60 new frames for the next season. In my opinion, the Spalding made wood frames were the best wood racquets ever made. Spalding made racquets for virtually all the great players of the time including Budge, Kramer, Vines, Tilden, etc. In 1960 or so, Spalding closed down the racquet factory, and bought the Snauwaert factory in Belgium. They unwittingly neglected to carry over the exact specifications for the Pancho Gonzales Autograph, as well as others, and let Snauwaert make them on there usual spec fixtures. The result was a smaller head which did not perform like the American racquets. Wilson at this time, had to buy the Cortland Racquet Co. in Cortland, NY, and it took them a year to get back in stride. They did make it however, using the best engineers they had, to redesign the Cortland factory to make the JKA exactly the same as the one they had been getting from Spalding. Spalding had effectively cut themselves out of the top quality racquet market. Ralph V. Sawyer, the engineer who had designed both the JKA and the PGA for Spalding, (they were duplicates, except for the white paint on the U-faces of the PGA), then moved over to Bancroft, in Pawtucket, RI, and proceeded to design the Bancroft "Players Special". This racquet used the same white ash as Spalding had used, but they also used Bamboo as the outermost layer of wood. Bamboo was very hard and durable, and withstood a beating, much like the maple that was used by Spalding and Wilson. As time went by, the wood became harder to get. In the late '70's the pure white secondary growth ash could not be obtained anymore, and the JKA started to have a reddish or brownish tinge to the ash strips that made up the famed "Strata-Bow". Did you know that Jack Kramer did not use the JKA when he played his amateur matches? He actually preferred the high handle flake of the Don Budge Autograph, and did not use the shorter handle flake until well into his pro career, when Wilson made the racquets with his name attached, and he obtained a 5% royalty each and every year up to 1983, when the famed JKA was put to sleep. I am proud of being the engineer who designed the JKA-midsize, especially since it kept the racquet factory in Cortland NY in operation for the next two years. Finally, the factory closed. The JKA midsize was created at the behest of Pepsi-Co management. At this time, they were as far removed from tennis people, as was humanly possible. I went to see them, and asked if I could design a midsize which had a visible braided facing up to the end of the u-faces, but they insisted that the graphite could not show on the surface of the racquet. In other words, the JKA-ms must look exactly like the original from the face view. This was a problem, because the JKA-ms was only 82 sq inches in head size, and so was very close to the original head size of 68 sq . inches. It was hard to tell them apart in the pro shops. I had to slice the surface of the frame on each side and epoxy in a thin strip of graphite. This was tedious work, and the racquet was too heavy. Finally, the racquet was approved, and went on sale. When Jack Kramer himself looked at the racquet, at the sales meeting, he told the salesmen that this was a great racquet "because it was so heavy, just like his was when he played." The marketing department gulped. Jack was about twenty years behind the current weights of racquets sold in those days. (Jack's personal stash of JKA's were 5 1/4" grips, and about 15 ounces unstrung. Quite a racquet, but you had to realize that he had developed his game alongside Budge and Vines, who depended on 16 ounce frames for power and control, in those days.)
By the way, Wilson Kramers never used more than one strip of Maple. Maple was too heavy. The racquets were painted using a sealer coat, then lightly sanded to remove the raised slivers of wood, raised up by the sealer coat, and then they had at least one more heavy clear coat applied. I don't think that they would pick up much moisture as additional weight. Only a few grams by my old tests. Usually in the grip. I used to have one of Kramer's personal stock of racquets, and he still used the rawhide butt cap and the cloth with the embroidered "W" on it. His racquet was also a 5 1/4" grip and about 15 plus ounces unstrung. He wrote in his book that he was sorry that he didn't listen to Budge and Vines sooner. He switched to the heavier racquets after turning pro. I found one of Kramer's racquets falling out of the marketing storage cage at Wilson @ 1984. It was half way out of the cage, and so I picked it up and it had writing on it stating that it was Jack's racquet that he won Forest Hills with (I forget which one). He had the scores and opponent written on it as well. There was a lot of room to write, because of the long handle flake. I shoved it all the way to the back wall of the cage, and went up to see Gene Buwick, who was VP of Promotions, and asked about the racquet. I asked if I could have it, and he said a definite 'no". I hope it wasn't tossed in the garbage with so many other things when Pepsi Co was "cleaning up" to sell the company. I did notice one day, a steel pair of net posts getting tossed into the dumpster. I walked back into the warehouse and found a pallet with a mesh covering some canvas. Inspection showed it to be one of the pro canvas courts that the Kramer troupe used to take around the country, and set up in gyms. I asked Gene Buwick again about it and he called Jack and found out that it was his court all right, used for matches in the midwest area. Wilson stored it for him. I called the Newport Hall of Fame museum, and the lady caretaker of all things tennis told me that she didn't ask for things, but if something were offered, she might take it. I am afraid that the court got tossed out into the same dumpster, and the history of Kramer, Hoad, Gonzales, Sedgeman, Rosewall, etc etc was lost forever.