The Origins of the National Baseball Hall
of Fame and Museum
to the 1939 Hall of Fame dedication ceremony
Crowd surrounds the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for dedication
ceremonies on June 12, 1939.
From humble beginnings, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has become one
of the nation's most recognizable and popular educational institutions. The Museum is located in the
pastoral village of Cooperstown in central New York State, nestled between the Catskill and
Adirondack mountains, 70 miles west of Albany, the state capital.
Located on Main Street, the Baseball Hall of Fame officially opened its doors on June 12, 1939.
Cooperstown represents a step back in time, with buildings dating to the early 19th century and
orange geraniums hanging from classically-styled streetlights. More than 350,000 people travel to
the Village each year to pay tribute to our National Pastime by visiting the Hall of Fame, an
institution which honors excellence, preserves history and connects generations.
The most popular question asked by baseball enthusiasts making their pilgrimage to the spiritual
home of the game is, "Why Cooperstown?" The answer involves a commission, a tattered
baseball, a philanthropist and a centennial celebration.
The Mills Commission
The Mills Commission was appointed in 1905 to determine the origin of Baseball. Albert
G. Spalding, one of the game's pioneers, urged the formation of the committee, following an
article by Henry Chadwick, a
famous early baseball writer, who contended that the sport evolved from the English game of rounders.
Seven prominent men comprised the commission, including Col. A.G. Mills of New York, who played
baseball before and during the Civil War and was the fourth president of the National League
(1882-1884); the Hon. Morgan G.
Bulkeley, former Governor and then-U.S. Senator from Connecticut, who served as the National
League's first president in 1876; the Hon. Arthur P. Gorman, U.S. Senator from Maryland, a former
player and ex-president of the National Baseball Club of Washington; Nicholas E. Young of
Washington, D.C., a longtime player who was the first secretary and later fifth president of the
National League (1884-1902); Alfred J. Reach of Philadelphia and George
Wright of Boston, both well-known businessmen and two of the most famous players of their day;
and the president of the Amateur Athletic Union, James E. Sullivan of New York.
During its three-year study, the committee was deluged with communications on the subject. The
testimony of Abner Graves, a mining engineer from Denver, in support of Abner Doubleday, figured
prominently in the committee's inquiry.
Both Graves and Doubleday had attended school together in Cooperstown. Doubleday was later appointed
to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1842. Subsequently he served in the
Mexican and Civil wars. According to historical records, he fired the first gun shot as a captain
for the Union at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
In his letters to Spalding, Graves claimed to have been present when Doubleday made changes to a
local version of "town ball." As Graves described the game, one player tossed the ball
straight in the air allowing another player to hit the ball with a four-inch flat bat. Some 20 to 50
players, scattered about the field, attempted to catch the ball before the batter could run to a
goal fifty feet away. According to Graves, Doubleday used a stick to mark out a diamond-shaped field
in the dirt. His other refinements to the rudimentary game included limiting the number of players
and adding four bases (hence the name, "base ball").
The committee's final report, on December 30, 1907, stated, in part, that "the first scheme for
playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday
at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839."
Abner Doubleday and the Doubleday Baseball
The discovery of an old baseball in a dust-covered attic trunk in 1934 supported the committee's
findings. The ball was located in a farmhouse in Fly Creek, a village three miles from Cooperstown,
where the baseball - undersized, misshapen and obviously homemade - was discovered. The stitched
cover had been torn open, revealing stuffing of cloth instead of wool and cotton yarn, which
comprise the interior of the modern baseball. The ball soon became known as the "Doubleday
Soon after its discovery, the baseball was purchased for $5 by Stephen C. Clark, a Cooperstown
resident and philanthropist. Clark conceived the idea of displaying the ball, along with such other
baseball objects as could be obtained, in a room in the Village Club, which now houses the
Cooperstown village offices. The small one-room exhibition attracted tremendous public interest.
With the assistance of Alexander Cleland, who had been associated with Clark in other endeavors,
support was sought for the establishment of a National Baseball Museum.
Ford Frick, then president of the
National League, was especially enthusiastic. He obtained the backing of Kenesaw
Mountain Landis, Baseball's first commissioner, and William
Harridge, president of the American League. Contributions and historically significant baseball
memorabilia soon poured in from all parts of the country as word spread.
Coincidentally, in 1935 plans were also being formulated for an appropriate celebration in
Cooperstown to mark Baseball's upcoming 100th anniversary four years hence. Frick proposed
that a Hall of Fame be established as part of the shrine to honor the game's immortals.
Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony, June 12, 1939.
Left to right: Ford Frick, Kenesaw M. Landis,
William Harridge, William G. Bramham.
The cooperation of the Baseball Writers' Association of America was enlisted to select
the playing greats who were to be so honored. The first election was conducted in January
of 1936 and five players were namedTy
Cobb, Babe Ruth,
Honus Wagner, Christy
Mathewson, and Walter
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was officially dedicated in colorful
ceremony on June 12, 1939. The game's four ranking executives of the periodLandis,
Frick, Harridge and William G. Bramham, President of the National Association,
participated in the ribbon-cutting. Of the 25 immortals who had been elected to the Hall
of Fame up to that point, 11 were still living; and all of them journeyed to Cooperstown
to attend the centennial celebration. A baseball postage stamp commemorating the occasion
was placed on sale that day at the Cooperstown post office, with Postmaster General James
A. Farley presiding.
After the Commission reported its findings in 1908, many of the game's historians disputed Graves'
accounts, noting that many of the innovations he attributed to Doubleday were already being
practiced earlier in the 1830s. The discovery in 1999 of the original Mills Commission papers, long
reported to have been burned, supports the view of many researchers that Baseball developed from,
and along with, other bat-and-ball games earlier in the nineteenth century. One day, historians may
determine that Abner Graves' testimony, covering a period when the widely-played game of town ball
was undergoing rapid changes, captures that point in time when these changes to The Game arrived in
one typical American community and caused a minor revolution on the sandlot.
Nevertheless, such a finding will not diminish the Mills Commission's contribution to our National
Pastime a century ago. By collecting the memories of many early fans and players while they were
still living, the committee created a treasure trove of early Baseball history that would otherwise
have been lost. Moreover, by identifying a site for Baseball's origin, the Mills Commission
initiated the process that ultimately established a home for the sport-the National Baseball Hall of
Fame and Museum.
Evolution of the Museum and Library
Since 1939, several significant physical changes have taken place at the Museum. Expansions in 1950
and 1980 added much more exhibit space, while the Hall of Fame Gallery was dedicated in 1958. In
1994, the original Library, which had opened in 1968, was renovated and connected to the Museum. The
Museum has begun a renovation project, expected to
conclude in spring 2005, to create a safer environment for visitors, provide a smoother traffic flow
through the Museum's galleries, better manage and control the climate for artifacts and provide a
greater presence of interactive technology for visitors.
Representing all aspects of Baseball - both on the field and in our culture - the Museum collections
total 35,000 three-dimensional artifacts (including bats, balls, gloves, caps, helmets, uniforms,
shoes, trophies and awards) and 130,000 baseball cards. All artifacts in the Museum's collections
have been donated.
Founded in 1939 as part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the National
Baseball Library is by far the largest repository of baseball information in the world. The
Library's mission is responsible for the acquisition, organization, preservation and dissemination
of all archival material related to the history of baseball and its impact on culture and society.
The Hall of Fame Library contains 2.6 million items, housed in climate-controlled areas and
maintained by a professional staff using state-of-the-art archival techniques. The photo collection
contains more than 500,000 historic images of players, teams, ballparks and other baseball subjects.
In addition, the Library's film, video and recorded sound archive contains more than 10,000 hours of
footage dating back to the late 19th century, including an extensive collection of Hollywood movies
The Library is a public facility where numerous researchers and Museum visitors are served annually.
While the majority of patrons are independent baseball fans conducting research, others using the
facilities have included such esteemed authors as George Plimpton, Roger Kahn and George Will;
officials from many major and minor league clubs; former big league players; writers from the New
York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal; television shows such as Jeopardy;
and students of all ages. Whether it's simply answering a question or fielding a request from The
White House for information for a presidential speech, the research department answers approximately
60,000 research inquiries annually.
The Baseball Hall of Fame Today
In August of 2000, the board of directors of the Museum elected the founder's granddaughter, Jane
Forbes Clark, chairman. The year before, Dale A. Petroskey became the Museum's fifth president.
Under their leadership, the Museum has begun to build an endowment to ensure its long-term financial
security and has continued to broaden its educational outreach. In 2002, Baseball
As America, a national exhibition tour of select artifacts from the Museum opened a
four-year tour to much acclaim at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The
exhibit is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History throughout
the 2004 baseball season, and overall is scheduled to travel to 10 of this country's most renowned
museums. The national tour of Baseball As America is sponsored by Ernst & Young.
Published by National Geographic, Baseball As America: Seeing Ourselves Through Our National Game,
is the official companion volume to the tour.
The Hall of Fame's education programs extend the Museum's reach
to children throughout the United States. America Grows Inning by Inning - an extensive
series of thematic lessons - teaches core curriculum subjects using the game of baseball as a
"hands-on" foundation for helping students better learn key concepts, based upon national
academic standards. In addition to onsite school visits, the Museum delivers interactive programs
into classrooms outside of Cooperstown via distance learning. Through partnerships with Ball State
University in Muncie, Ind., and Project View in Schenectady, NY, one hour to half-day electronic
field trips and videoconferences have been enjoyed by more than 60 million students nationwide in
the last three years.
As a part of its public programming for fans of all ages, the Museum also offers an extensive
year-round calendar of entertaining and
informative events designed for families and scholars of the sport alike. From roundtable
discussions with Hall of Fame members to Sandlot Stories, featuring staff and visiting
experts highlighting baseball's rich history, to gallery talks, treasure hunts, concerts, movies and
plays, the Baseball Hall of Fame presents more than 300 educational events each year.
Additionally, Hall of Fame Weekend, featuring the Induction
Ceremony and scores of returning Hall of Fame members, highlights the schedule of events for the
year. The annual Hall of Fame Game, featuring two major league teams in an exhibition contest at
legendary Doubleday Field, draws thousands for an afternoon game at the home of baseball.
From its embryonic stages, the Baseball Hall of Fame has become an international destination that
chronicles the evolution of our National Pastime. From humble beginnings and a small collection of
artifacts in the mid-1930s, the Hall of Fame has evolved into a cultural showcase, where people come
to learn about the past, and soon discover that Baseball is the common thread of our national
Related: Read a
Four-Part History of the Museum
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