USA Table Tennis

Harvard—Harvard Specialty Manufacturing Company—out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, began advertising in Topics with the Oct. and Nov., 1937 issues (“We manufacture Table Tennis equipment of a quality that has never been excelled”). Then they abruptly stopped advertising, only to start up again in the Feb., 1938 issue. Unlike other manufacturers, Harvard tried the personal approach: “The Greatest Friend to your own Playing Skill is the right equipment.” Harvard “is helping many to more enjoyment and better scoring.” Harvard also, unlike some of the other regular advertisers, changed its copy—indeed, it did so quickly for the Apr., 1938 issue, though in speaking of its equipment it kept the personal approach: “Look it over, handle it to your own satisfaction. You’ll ‘feel’ its superior quality and you’ll never again be satisfied with less.”

Harvard continued advertising in Topics—though satisfied for a while not to change its “The Winnah” ad that, beginning with the 1938-39 season occupied a choice position on the back cover of the magazine. Then a return to the personal approach, as in the June, 1939 issue (when by this time the Company was now out of Boston): Harvard equipment “will tend to make you a better player…give you a more interesting and exciting game…give you confidence.”

All through the 1930’s and ‘40’s Harvard products, like some others consistently advertised in Topics—George Perryman’s Table Tennis of America Co (TATCO) and Louis Sametz’s Mercury Ball, for example—were almost never used in major USTTA tournaments. P. Becker & Co., owned by long-time Association supporter Will Schnur, and the Detroiter Table had the inside track on balls and tables.

Of course Harvard’s main interest was not in the hundreds of USTTA members, but in all those ping-pong players “out there” who played not in tournaments but for “fun.” So no surprise that sometimes their Topics advertisements were spotty; for instance, there were no Harvard ads in the Feb. through Oct., 1940 issues.

But for their Feb., 1941 ad, they introduced two new USTTA-approved “Rocket” and “Zenith” balls (“New balls give truer bounce and faster play because of the special seasoning process….Your accuracy will be more dependable”). Though these weren’t used in major tournaments (the “Rocket” sputtered out), Harvard continued to loyally support the Association with monthly Topics ads.

There were problems of course in War time, as this Nov., 1942 ad confirms: “If you have suffered any delay in obtaining Harvard Table Tennis nets, balls, bats and equipment, please accept our apologies….[Present] equipment is obtainable with priority rating A-1-A or better.” The reader gets the feeling Harvard cares about him/her, and is very patriotic: 

“Confident of the ultimate victory and future rewards that are sure to follow the peace—these are the hopes that spur us on to give our all to every precious man-hour of production time…speeding our games and equipment to far-flung battlefronts.

The sooner this ‘job’ is over, the better we’ll all like it, since we’ve had to curtail the manufacture of many things for your use as well as our own. But—through diligence, determination and combined energy, we’ll help speed the victory” (TTT, Oct., 1943, p. 5). 

The larger Harvard ad running from Nov., 1946 through May, 1948 showed a picture of the boxed set “Preferred by Champions”—after which, the box picture was dropped, the ad shortened, and in Feb., 1950 a Harvard table shot was added.

Finally, in 1950, a Harvard product was selected for the U.S. National’s: their net sets were used in St. Louis, and soon thereafter at the National’s in Cleveland and Rochester, after which, in the late ‘50’s and into the ‘60’s McClure nets and standards were chosen. In the post-War years and on into the ‘50’s there was a dearth of advertising in Topics—with really Detroiter and Harvard being the exceptional companies who continued their ads month in, month out.

With the Feb., 1952 issue, the Harvard ads stopped—then resumed, graced by a new ad, in the May, 1953 Topics. The emphasis here, regardless of “age, sex, or physical size,” was on table tennis and its “body and character building benefits.” Harvard was offering a “Table Tennis Teacher,” a 16-page booklet free if one just filled out the coupon accompanying the ad.

Now, however, Topics degenerated into a mimeographed Newsletter, and literally years would pass before the USTTA could expect any support for their publication from the manufacturers. Readers must have been surprised to see in the Feb., 1961 issue the inserted entry blank for the upcoming Detroit U.S. Open with a big Harvard racket sharing first page space with a photo of Cobo Hall. The more surprised perhaps because Harvard equipment was not being used at this tournament.

Harvard returned to its regular Topics ads with the Mar., 1962 issue. Its primary market could be seen in the small picture of a man and a woman playing—he swinging away in a shirt and tie. With the coming of the 1962-63 season Harvard chose not to place ads in Topics, and it would be years before they’d advertise again.

When, in the Jan.-Feb., 1974 Topics, they began again to place a monthly ad—for Sponge bats—the Harvard Table Tennis Corp. was now part of Escalade Sports. In the mid-‘70’s Harvard went after the tournament players—they had a booth at the U.S. Open, and improved their ad rhetoric: a full page ad in the May-June, 1976 Topics was headed “Harvard Is Out To Make You No. 1, Too.” Sporting now the TSP line of balls and a connection with Indian Industries, the ad ended with “We Mean Business.” In this issue, Topics also showed USTTA President Sol Schiff and Vice President D-J Lee in suits and ties plopping the ball back and forth on a table in front of the Harvard booth at the National Sporting Goods Show in Chicago.

Subsequently a barrage of full-page ads in Topics promoting Harvard tables and accessories, abetted by its sponsorship of the 1977 $2500 Eastern Open, proclaimed it the Number One name in table tennis. The Sept.-Oct, 1978 Topics showed a photo of its new Advisory Staff—Dan Robbins, George Brathwaite, Houshang Bozorgzadeh, and Roger Sverdlik. Roger’s sister Nan and brother-in-law Tony Elmore would direct the 1979 Benihana U.S. Open—the first U.S. Open to use Harvard tables (perhaps their Institutional “Invincible” ones?) and Harvard TSP balls.

What will be their future with the USTTA in the quarter-century to come?