Thorn: What were baseballs made of?

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on November 29, 2016:

The other day I received this interesting query from children’s-book author Cathy Sweeney:

“I am at work on a young children’s book about Abe Lincoln playing base ball in the 1840s in New Salem, Illinois. I figure I can make a bat out of a tree limb cut down or the handle of a broom, but I am stumped as to what they used for the ball. Rubber was not invented yet, so I know there was no rubber core in the center of the ball. A pebble…. A stone?… A marble?… all of them then wrapped in layers of cloth/ material and held together by rope/twine/string. The other day I read where someone had used a fish eye. Does this sound familiar to you?”

Well, yes, it does. I replied:

Rubber was indeed an option for the ball’s center in the 1840s, as rubber strips could be had from old “galluses” (suspenders) or other sources. (Galvanized rubber had not yet been invented but natural rubber was common in the West in the 18th century.)

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Originally published: November 30, 2016. Last Updated: November 30, 2016.