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"The One Man Operation"
by Bill Beaulieu
Reach, Spalding, Goldsmith, Levinson, Draper, and Maynard. Unless you're
an avid boxing fan or historian, these names of early boxing glove manufacturers
are meaningless. Yet, probably the most recognized brand -- Everlast --
first appeared nearly 80 years ago.
At one time, the one-man glove making operation was a guy interested in the
business end of the boxing game, who could either operate an old Singer 31-15,
or 31-19 sewing machine and fashion his own line of gear. Some were lucky enough
to have a skilled stitcher that could meet the demand for quality, along with
the skill to fill custom mail order requests.
Today, the modern supplier either imports his gear, made for him in a private
label deal, or employs skilled stitchers, working on an assembly line set up.
Nearly all gloves made today are manufactured in Indonesia, Mexico, China,
and Pakistan. Of these, only Everlast, based in the Bronx, NY, and Reyes,
the Mexico City manufacturer, actually make their own gear.
I first became interested in this esoteric field, when I visited a small brick
front walkup on the lower east side of Manhattan. The year was 1969. Let
me tell you of the love affair that began that day.
February of 1969 -- my honeymoon of all things -- brought my new bride and me to
New York City. Along with sightseeing, shopping, visiting Radio City Music Hall
and Mama Leone's I wanted to purchase some quality boxing gear. On too many
occasions, I had been disappointed in what I had received via the mail order
route and decided that while in New York, I would purchase direct.
My first stop brought me to G&S sporting goods on Essex Street. The
gentleman there told me that G & S made its gear on site and anything I
wanted was available. I was not permitted to view the actual manufacturing of
equipment, but was assured that G & S was "the best"
I moved on a few blocks to the brick front walkup and entered a second floor
door that changed my love of boxing forever. Mr. Gil Spillet, the owner of the
world famous Tuf-Wear label, met me at the door and asked me my business. He
must have seen my curiosity, as he led me into an area where two women sat at
their sewing machines. Watching, I couldn't believe the magic being performed:
the women made the most beautiful black leather boxing gloves that I had ever
seen. These gloves were worn by champions the world over. The speed bags and
shoes were made of kangaroo leather and the green thread was a Tuf-Wear
To some, the boxing glove was a mere tool of the trade, perhaps a weapon, but to
me it was a thing of beauty. I was amazed at how these strips of leather,
cut from a pattern and stitched together and stuffed with either horse or hog
hair, could turn out so beautifully.
I was hooked. I wanted to learn everything about how leather boxing
equipment was made, and the history of the the people that had chosen this to be
their livelihood. From that day on, I have studied, talked to written to or
personally met with some of these individuals, to better learn this trade.
At one time, the "one-man operation" produced some of the finest
gloves used in some of the most famous bouts in boxing history. Virtually
all of these men are gone, but the work and art they produced deserves to be
remembered. I would like to introduce the readers of the Cyber Boxing Zone
to some of the
Al Zimmer, Spartan.
Al Zimmer, once with the popular mail order supplier, Spartan, based in
Brooklyn, was already retired and living in Boca Raton, Florida when I contacted
him in 1984. Angelo Dundee had given me the contact information as he knew
Zimmer from the early 5th. St. Gym days. Living at century village in Boca, the
78 year old Zimmer was delighted that someone had an interest and was more than
gracious in not only reminiscing, but to my surprise,
expressing a desire to visit with my wife and I in our home in New Hampshire.
Before long, we were at a Singer machine in our basement learning the finer
points of glove making. We also learned how to select the right leathers
and thread, the rubber and cement necessary to fashion a protective cup
At that moment, my nearly 20 years with the phone company meant nothing to me
and I was ready to give it all up for a new profession. Luckily my wife's
good sense prevailed and thoughts of a full time career in the boxing equipment
business faded. Over the next few years, Al and I visited one another both
in Florida and New Hampshire. Al is gone now, but I still have
all the old Spartan patterns and some machinery -- along with the inner love and
dream of this profession.
Sammy Frager. Frager gloves, Chicago.
Frager was born in Constanta, Romania in the early 1900s and immigrated to
America, settling in Chicago. He ran a small shop on Randolph Street and from
the early 30's to the mid 60's, made gloves for some of the most important
fighters in the game. He would take a traced print of the fighter's hand
and make custom fitting gloves for a perfect fit. The smallest were said to be
those of Tony Canzoneri, while Abe Simon had the largest, 14 inches, until Sonny
Liston ventured on the scene and becoming a regular customer for his 15"
fist. Liston and Ali wore Frager's for both their championship fights. Sammy
took approximately 6 hours to make a set of four fight gloves, using lamb or
sheep skin and stuffed with goat hair padding. Later he introduced foam to his
gloves, which helped change the modern fight glove.
Sol Levinson, the San Francisco dress glove maker of the late 1890s. Who was
approached to make a more comfortable boxing glove. One that a fighter could
make a natural feeling fist and could close the fist readily. Before long, the
Levinson glove was being asked for and used in all the championship fights of
that era. When James J. Jeffries beat Bob Fitzsimmons, Levinson's gloves were
used and when jack Johnson won over Jeffries in Nevada, his gloves were used
again. Jess Willard wore the largest glove Levinson had made. Jeffries is
said to have used another brand in his fight with Gus Ruhlin, having picked up a
random pair at a local San Francisco sporting goods store. In the battle,
Jeffries broke his hand. He blamed the accident onto the gloves and from then on
never used anything except Levinson's. Sol Levinson utilized the curved thumb
and also the bump to eliminate eye gouging long before it was adopted as
standard on the so-called modern glove.
I have studied the history of many, many more of these famous and not so famous
glove makers and continue to be fascinated by their closed, but necessary field
of boxing business.
My list goes on and there isn't a day that I don't wish I was a part of