Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pasted Graphic
Southeast corner Tulip & Memphis Streets (2007).

A.J. Reach & Co., c.1907-1922
1701-1707 Tulip Street, 1721-1731 Tulip Street, 1714-1718 Memphis Street, Philadelphia PA 19125

Stuart Paul Dixon, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

A.J. Reach & Co. was one of the largest producers of sporting goods in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its complex covered most of the block bounded by Tulip, Eyre, Memphis, and Palmer Streets in northern Fishtown. Although the original mill building dating from the late nineteenth century was demolished about 1980, the remaining three buildings of the complex still document the growth of Reach as a leader in the sporting goods field.
 
The four-story factory at 1721-1731 Tulip Street dates from about 1907. It has a shallowly-sloped gable roof and a corbeled cornice, with the roof ridge parallel to Tulip Street. The Tulip Street elevation has twelve bays; the northeast elevation facing Eyre Street has ten bays. The northeast elevation has been extensively altered and displays at least two periods of construction; a seam running from the elevator tower on the roof down between the fourth and fifth bays probably denotes the extent of the earliest, unaltered portion of the building to the west.
 
The four-story brick and concrete building at 1701-1707 Tulip Street, erected about 1910, has eight bays along its southwest elevation facing Palmer Street and three bays along its northwest elevation facing Tulip Street. A fourth bay on Tulip Street is defined by concrete piers; it contains an elevator shaft and is topped by an elevator tower.
 
The only building for which a definite date of construction has been uncovered stands at 1714-1718 Memphis Street. Sanborn Insurance Surveys state that this building was erected in 1922. The four-story concrete and brick factory building contains five bays along Memphis and seven bays along Eyre Street where there is a center stair tower. Three loading docks with canopies are located on the Eyre Street elevation.

Pasted Graphic
"A.J. Reach Company, Base Balls & Sporting Goods Factory" (1893), Hexamer #2627.
 
Reach began making baseballs, footballs, and boxing gloves at this site in 1892 in a former silk hosiery and knit goods mill, constructed about 1883.
1 The company employed 250 people and manufactured twenty types of baseballs and twenty one models of baseball gloves. Catalogs of Reach's products advertised Reach's "official" American League baseball as endorsed by the Philadelphia Athletics' manager, Connie Mack.
 
In 1886, Reach was making baseballs as a tenant at two other Fishtown factories, one at 1101-1103 Frankford Avenue and the other on Beach Street along Fishtown's riverfront. In 1934, Reach sold all its properties in the block currently bounded by Palmer Street, Tulip Street, Eyre Street, and Memphis Street to another sporting goods manufacturer, A. G. Spaulding Bros. Spaulding divested itself of the complex shortly thereafter. Subsequent owners have included Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Philadelphia and Nabisco. The Memphis Street building is now used as an automobile tire warehouse, while the building at 1701-1707 Tulip Street houses a machinery and parts manufacturer.
 
Although the mill building at 1709-1719 Tulip Street that housed Reach's original baseball factory does not survive, the present buildings at 1701-1707 Tulip, 1721-1731 Tulip, and 1714-1718 Memphis are related to Reach's most intense and successful era. The company had an important impact on the Fishtown community. A 1916 industrial census indicates that over 1,000 people were then employed at Reach; this figure may not include Fishtowners who sewed covers on baseballs in their homes.

1   This mill was originally operated by Samuel Vickers and Julius Weston and was situated at 1709-1719 Tulip Street.

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):
A Zoning Notice posted in April 2007 requests permission to "demolish an existing four story structure" and create seventy-six family dwellings "as part of an existing four story structure" and provide seventy seven parking spaces. It is not clear which of the four-story buildings they wish to demolish. Four-story buildings line the entire south side of Memphis Street, the oldest being at the the corner of Tulip Street and made of brick. The cast concrete building at the other end of the block looks over Memphis Street to Palmer Burial Ground, established in the 18th century by the founder of "Kensington," Anthony Palmer. Another four-story cast concrete building is at the northeast corner of Tulip and Palmer. 

A similar conversion from industrial use to sixty residential dwellings is planned at 2424 East York Street (northwest corner of Gaul Street) which sold in March 2007 for $2,250,000. Jacob Holtz Co. occupied this space for sixty years but is now moving to a building on the Boeing site below the airport. Jacob Holtz Co. manufactures "rug runners" [used on bed frames] in Philadelphia and imports casters, stampings, and furniture hardware. About forty people are currently employed, some of whom have been there for over thirty years.


See also:
Hexamer General Survey #2627 (1893), "A.J. Reach Company, Base Balls & Sporting Goods Factory."