Contact and Ordering Information

History of the OK MFG Co. and Sonnett Sporting Goods

by Brett Lowman


William Sonnett, whose family had immigrated to McKee's Rocks, Pennsylvania from Germany, was one of ten children.  The other boys all became machinists but life had a different calling for William.  Around 1918 he went to work for P. Goldsmith Sons in Cincinnati, Ohio and was later promoted to the position of general superintendent for the company.  He began his work in the baseball glove department but soon was integral in many other aspects of the company.  Edgar Goldsmith, one of 5 brothers responsible for the sporting goods manufacturer, told Sonnett that the secret to success was to be kind to all of your customers, something that would stick with young William throughout his life. While working for Goldsmith, he came up with some ideas that changed the future of sports equipment.


One of his lasting ideas was the creation of the rubber valve that is used in basketballs, footballs, soccer balls and volleyballs.  He actually improved on this design when he created his own company and was able to get a patent on it.  The second of his lasting ideas was the cantilever shoulder pads that football players use to this day.  Another one of his football innovations was the “Viking Style” football helmet.  While at Goldsmith he also helped develop the first lace-less basketball and was proactive in helping the company develop their own golf equipment. 


In 1933, at the age of 42, he started the Ohio-Kentucky MFG Co. in a barn on the outskirts of Covington, Kentucky before moving to a factory in Cincinnati a year later.  He began the company with a partner from Kentucky, hence the name, but that person quickly sold his interest back to William Sonnett for $48.  During the formative years, the company only manufactured inflatable sporting goods, such as basketballs and footballs.  Sonnett did everything - he cut the leather and assembled the items, all the while working as salesman, book keeper and stenographer for the company.  As word of mouth spread about his high quality sporting goods, more employees were added and production increased.  In January of 1937, a flood devastated the company and it was said that equipment floated all the way down to New Orleans, LA.  Most of the merchandise was lost but the machinery was saved.  After the flood and an estimated loss of $15,000, Sonnett moved his company to Ada, Ohio in 1938.  Upon setting up shop in Ada, the company started to manufacture leather baseball gloves in addition to the inflatable goods that they had started producing 5 years earlier.


The people of Ada were very helpful in attracting the company to town.  They raised over $9000 through donations and the selling of land certificates.  The town purchased a building from the local university and went about renovating, preparing for the arrival of Mr. Sonnett.  The town was eager for the arrival because the company would provide jobs for men and women.  Upon first arriving in town, Sonnett employed approximately 20 people but that number soon grew to over 150.  There were many notable additions to the staff during this time, including his son, William II, who had began working with his dad since the inception of the company in 1933.  Ben Stobbe was hired as the superintendent for the soft leather department in 1938.  It was he, along with William I, who came up with some of the most innovative glove designs of the 1940's and early 1950's.  According to Bill Sonnett III, during the 1950’s and 60’s, the company employed between 150 and 250 people.


During this time period, William Sonnett was instrumental in all facets of the business.  He was a stickler for quality products and would inspect the items to make sure that the stitching was done properly. One of the choices he made was to use the "Velvo-Tan" branded leather.  The quality of this leather can be determined when one puts their hand into an OK MFG Co. or Sonnett glove.  In addition to their fine baseball gloves, OK MFG Co. continued to produce the inflatable balls that had been the cornerstone of their business from the beginning.  The 1940's saw the business expand but they were also asked to help out with the war effort.  They produced sporting goods for the servicemen as well as "barbed wire gauntlets" so that troops could maneuver into enemy territory.


The end of the 1940's saw the company shift names from O.K. MFG Co. to Sonnett.  The OK name was still used in advertising and on products (it was the trademark), but the name Sonnett started to take precedence.  The brand became more popular with consumers because of it's quality and innovative products.  On December 31, 1954, Wilson Sporting Goods announced that it had purchased the company but that the name and workers would remain the same.  In the summer of 1956, William Sonnett announced his retirement and his son, William II, who had worked with him from the beginning of the company, took over as plant manager.  Wiliam Sr. still continued to work in an unofficial capacity. The Sonnett company continued making baseball equipment into the late 1960's and football's into the 1970's.  The factory in Ada is still used today by Wilson to produce footballs.  In fact, all of their USA made footballs originate from this plant.

The story of the OK MFG Co. and of William Sonnett is the American Dream personified.  The son of immigrants, with a creative and industrious mind, working his way up in the world through hard work and determination.  The result here  being some of the most finely crafted sporting goods of the 20th century.  Next time you pick up a piece of Sonnett's work you can be sure that he took the time to inspect it personally and made sure that it met the highest standard possible - William Sonnett's.