Excerpts from the book "How Design Changed America" by Henry Keck
Hot Ball Machines
Our next story is about hot balls, tennis balls that is. Tennis is a demanding game and the hallmark of a good tennis player is consistency and strokes that can be learned with precision. The drawback to many emerging players is that they don’t have a partner to play with to gain consistency and precision. To overcome this drawback, the great French tennis player of the 1920s, Rene Lacoste invented the first tennis ball machine. It was a crude affair requiring an aide to insert tennis balls into a tube and then hand crank a discharge mechanism. Crude or not it worked and it helped Rene Lacoste to become a tennis legend. He won the first French International in 1925 and Wimbledon one month later.
Our job was to design a machine that could be manufactured inexpensively and that would have
special features to enhance its marketability. To start we eliminated our client’s metal housing and substituted a molded plastic surround in two parts. The big advantage of this was to eliminate many welded fittings needed as supporting internal structure. The plastic parts could include internal shapes molded in so that many parts needed in the metal structure were eliminated. We introduced wheels and a folding extension arm so that the machine could be easily wheeled onto the court.Battery or plug-in power was part of the design. Many tennis courts have no external power receptacles. The machine was compact and light in weight so that a user could easily place it in the trunk of a car.