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Uni Watch Field Trip: A Visit to the Brannock Device Co.

For all photos, you can click to enlarge

I had a blast throwing out the first pitch for the Syracuse Chiefs’ recent Brannock Device Night promotion, but the high point of that day did not come at the ballpark. It came a few hours earlier and a few miles away, when the Tugboat Captain and I visited the Brannock Device Company and got a tour of their factory, which is about as close as I can get to a holy pilgrimage.

The guy shown above is Tim Follett, the company’s vice president and day-to-day operations manager. His father-in-law, Sal Leonardi, bought the company in 1993, shortly after Charles Brannock’s death. Brannock had no family and hadn’t set up a succession plan, so his estate ended up selling the company to Leonardi. (Leonardi was not at the factory when I visited, but I did get to meet him later on at the ballpark.)

The current factory is not the original one, unfortunately. Shortly after Leonardi bought the company, he moved it from its original location in downtown Syracuse to its current spot in the neighboring town of Liverpool. The new facility was also furnished with new equipment, so not much remains from the original Brannock site. That includes most of the old files, paperwork, and many other artifacts, which were acquired some years ago by the Smithsonian Institution. Follett told me he and his family have gone down to Washington and seen some of the old Brannock items on display.

Still, there are some remnants of the old regime, including a few portraits of Charles Brannock himself on the walls. Also on the walls: assorted articles about the company — including one that I wrote back in 2001, when I was a columnist for Fortune Small Business. I won’t lie, people: It was a big thrill seeing that on the wall. (If you’re curious, you can read the piece here.)

Even if I hadn’t seen my article up there, I still would have been in heaven. Everywhere I looked, there were boxes and stacks of Brannock Devices in various states of assembly:

Follett walked us through the production process, which turned out to be more involved than I anticipated. Here’s a slightly truncated version of how the devices are made:

1. The main body of each device is die-cast from aluminum. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to learn that this step has always been outsourced to other metal fabricators and has never taken place in Syracuse. The current supplier, which is based in Pennsylvania, also makes the device’s two sliding parts — the T-bar (which measures foot width) and the pointer (which measures arch length). All of these parts are shipped to the Brannock plant.

2. The body of each device arrives in an unpolished and unfinished state, with lots of stray pieces of metal attached to it. You can see what I mean by looking at this next photo — the device on the right has lots of stray pieces along its edge, while the one on the left is nice and clean:

The stray bits are removed by putting the devices onto a machine that cleans off their edges, like so:

3. After the devices are removed from that machine, they’re put on another machine that sands down the edges:

4. The next step is for the devices to be polished. This actually entails several stages, the most interesting of which involves these big, vibrating tubs. Inside the tubs, the Brannock Devices are cleaned with a polishing solution and are scrubbed by dozens of little porcelain cones. I’d never seen anything like this before, and it was fascinating:

5. After the polishing, the next step is the buffing machine. I thought I had shot a good, long video clip of this one that showed the whole process, but it turns out that I botched that shot, so all I have is this short clip:

6. Around this time there’s a step where the inlays with the graphics are applied to the devices. Unfortunately, nobody was working on that during our visit. But here are the inlays (which are metal, with an adhesive backing), ready to be applied:

7. Graphics also need to be applied to the T-bars. And before they can be applied, they have to be bent. You can see both of those processes in this video clip:

8. After the T-bars are ready to go, the T-bars and pointers are both attached to the devices. In this next video, you’ll see a worker brushing something onto the back of the device — that’s Vaseline, to help the T-bar and pointer slide more easily. (I asked if it was “special Brannock Vaseline” and everyone laughed.) The next thing she applied, from a red bottle, is glue.

And that’s it — the final product.

I’ve always been intrigued by the pointer design, which is very ornate, almost like one of the feet on a clawfoot bathtub. I mentioned this to Follett, who said, a bit sheepishly, that they had actually “dumbed down” the pointer design a bit in recent years. You can see what he means in this next photo — that’s an older pointer, with the original design, on the right, and a newer “dumbed down” version on the left:

You can also see the difference in my older Brannock Device, which I purchased from a shoe store in 1993, and the souvenir device that I received at the ballpark, which was made last month. Original pointer on the left, newer “dumbed down” pointer on the right:

Before we left, Follett showed us what he believes to be the oldest Brannock Device remaining in the shop. He said it probably dates to the 1920s or ’30s:

It’s interesting to see how the T-bar design changed quite a bit from that early version, but the pointer, with its original ornate design, is still instantly recognizable.

The whole experience was tremendous, and in some ways was the realization of a longtime dream. Big thanks to Tim and his staff for showing us around.

I’m pretty sure this brings my admittedly very extensive coverage of Brannock Device Night to a close. I realize we’ve had a lot more Brannock coverage than the average Uni Watch reader probably expected or cared about. Thanks for your indulgence.

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Stoop sale update: My epic stoop/open-house sale will commence tomorrow at 10am sharp (no early birds, please). This is a major purge, people — in addition to all the cool collectibles shown here (which I’ll be selling right off the walls of my apartment, sort of like an estate sale except I’m not dead), I’ll also be selling all of the pencil sharpeners, all of the meat recipe booklets, a really good goose down quilt and an accompanying cover, an ice cream maker and accompanying ice cream recipe book, my mom’s vintage stand mixer, my father’s vintage soldering iron, 11 boxes’ worth of books, some very cool retail display shelves, a pair of stereo speakers, and a lot more. Out with the old, to make room for the new!

From a sports perspective, there’ll be four boxes of sports-centric books, a bunch of vintage jerseys, several dozen pairs of stirrups, six regulation footballs, a 1960s reproduction Packers helmet made by Helmet Hut, set of vintage NHL sheets, a vintage NFL bedspread, lots and lots of bowling-themed items (including a few pins), and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. I’ll have signed/numbered Todd Radom Uni Watch “Rain Check” prints and theoretical T-shirts (and onesies!) on hand as well.

Some final notes:

• The weather forecast calls for rain in the mid-afternoon (grrrr), so plan to arrive before then. If the forecast gets worse — calling for rain in the morning, for example — it’s possible that we’ll move the sale to Sunday. The best way to stay informed on that is to keep an eye on my Twitter feed and the sale’s Facebook event page. I promise that I will post a status update to both of those platforms before going to bed tonight and another one when I wake up tomorrow. No emails, please — thanks.

• Cash is preferred (and there’s a Chase ATM right at the corner), but I can also accept Venmo and credit cards.

• Prices are fluid and may depend on a bunch of factors, including my mood. Generally speaking, the non-collectible stuff will be very priced to move; the collectible stuff will be a bit spendier.

• As of this morning, there’s some talk that The New York Times may be sending a reporter and photographer to cover the sale. My sense is that it’s probably not going to happen (a final decision will come later today), but if it does happen, the reporter is particularly interested in talking to Uni Watch readers who’ve never previously met me, or each other — a fun angle.

I think that’s it. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!

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XXL cap reminder: If you want us to stock the upcoming Uni Watch “alternate” flex-fit cap in size XXL, you must pre-order it now. If we get enough pre-orders to meet our supplier’s 144-cap minimum (or close to it), we’ll go ahead and stock the cap in XXL; if we don’t get enough pre-orders, we’ll issue refunds.

The other two sizes — S/M and L/XL — do will be in stock and available for purchase right around the end of July, no pre-order required. Thanks for your patience!

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The Ticker
By Kris Gross

Baseball News: Cubs INF Addison Russell broke his belt making a diving play last night, so he had to get a new one (from Eric Lovejoy). … It looks like new Dodger Manny Machado will wear No. 8. He wore No. 13 with the Orioles, but that is taken by his new teammate Max Muncy (from Billy Ballas). … An interesting number note from Griffin Smith: Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt wears No. 8 because he used to shine Cal Ripken’s shoes. … The Pirates entered the All-Star break on a five-game sweep of the Brewers. Why do we care? They did it in five different uniforms (from Charles Sherrange). … Here’s a story on the life of Bryce Harper’s Washington DC flag headband (WaPo link) that he wore during the Home Run Derby (from Tom Turner). … The Fresno Grizzlies played as the Tacos last night. … We have more details on the Expos tribute jerseys the Vancouver Canadians will wear on Monday. … The New Orleans Baby Cakes are thinking of bringing back their tequila sunrise jerseys for next year. Should this even be a question? (From @danielbowen21.) … A strange sight from last night, as Cardinals and Cubs affiliates played in the opposite colors of their big league parent clubs (from Josh Miller). … A Pioneer League team is taking over after the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox leave, and here are the finalists for the new team name. Fingers crossed for Rocky Mountain Oysters!! (From Zeke Perez Jr.) … The Fort Myers Miracle will play as the Groupers tomorrow (from Reggie Holly). … Byrte Johnson needs help identifying this 1960s flannel jersey. Any ideas? … Reader Ian Cox broke in his new Uni Watch cap by bringing it to Wrigley Field for last night’s Cubs/Cards game. “Feels only appropriate to wear this for the first time while attending a classic uniform matchup at a historic ballpark,” he says.

NFL News: Here’s a fun look at the first year the Packers wore green (from Jeff Ash). … Browns fans, your season tickets are on their way. If you aren’t excited about the football this year, you’ll be excited about the ticket packaging that is coming your way (from our own Alex Hider). … FedEx Field should be a more attractive destination for fans (WaPo link) this season (from Tom Turner). … Looks like the Dolphins had some helmet striping tape issues during a 1983 game against the Chiefs (from Steven Marks). … The league has agreed to suspend its new policy on national anthem protests while it works out some objections with the players’ union.

College Football News: The new NC State jerseys feature a tribute to the state flag (from James Gilbert). … New unis for Maine. … Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson wins today’s lapel pin contest (from Benjamin Thomas). … Miami has made several tweaks, which are explained here and here (from Aron Christiansen).

Hockey News: The Golden Knights and the US Army have resolved their trademark dispute, which means the team name is no longer in legal jeopardy. … The Kalamazoo Wings are holding a uniform design contest for what the team will wear in December. … New uniforms for Merrimack College (from Stephen Hayes).

Basketball News: The Warriors’ Boogie Cousins press conference yesterday had lots of uni-notable details. First, it appears that the team will have a new NOB font. Second, it appears that the ad patch on the front has a new design (here’s the old one). Third, the jersey they gave Cousins had an incorrect champions tag (they won their sixth title last month). And finally, Cousins will be wearing No. 0 (from @leo_bopp and UnkieNoah). … Did you know: the Jazz had a .500 or better record in each of their four jerseys last season (from @HitTheGlass). … Thunder G Russell Westbrook pays homage to UCLA with his newest shoes (from Griffin Smith). … The Nuggets have a new practice court. … GameStops received life-size LeBron James cutouts to help promote the new NBA2K game. Some stores have found creative ways to cover his Cavs jersey — much respect to those keeping them ad-free! (From Joe Nguyen.) … Pictures of the Bucks’ new court have leaked. … New court design for Sacramento State (from Russell Preston).

Soccer News: Manchester City will wear Manchester-themed kits during their tour in the United States. One of the features is the “worker bee” symbol inside the numbers (from Aaron Dorfman). … As part of Manchester United’s new uniform, they do indeed have black shorts. According to our own Anthony Emerson, it is the first time they haven’t had white shorts since 1901. … Everton used their women’s team to announce their 2018-19 away kit (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … Tottenham Hotspur played home games at Wembley Stadium while their new stadium was being built last year, so they wore a badge on a shield on their shirts. Now they’re home, and the shield is gone on their new kits. Additionally, the new shirts have the team’s postcode and field coordinates inside the collar (from Alan Collins, Rok Grilec). … New kits for Dinamo Zagreb, Arka Gdynia, Piast Gilwice, and Macclesfield Town (from Ed Żelaski). … Manchester City’s new away kit appears to have leaked. … A Club America player was wearing No. 286 during last night’s friendly against Manchester United (from our own Anthony Emerson). … Watford unveiled their new kit by sending free shirts to supporters who attended all of last season’s games (from Josh Hinton). … New third shirt for Celtic (from Ed Żelaski). … Tottenham’s new away kit sure looks a lot like Barcelona’s training kit. Looks like Nike just recycled the design (from Blake Geschke). … In a 1995 UEFA Cup first-round first-leg game against Leeds United, Monaco used three goalkeepers (the third an outfield player who went in after the other two became injured) who wore three different jerseys. “In the second leg, another goalkeeper played and he had yet another design,” says Denis Hurley.

Grab Bag: Here’s why Tiger Woods wore tape on his neck (WaPo link) in the first round of the British Open (thanks, Phil). … The United States Olympic Committee has told a Vermont high school to drop the nickname “Olympians” (from David Bailey). … It’s true, Winston Churchill’s mom gave Williams College the school color of purple (from Paul Friedmann). … Australian rugby league team Canterbury is facing potential sanctions for wearing the wrong uniform last night (from Jackson Russell).

Comments (64)

    I would prefer for the MiLB team in Colo Spgs to keep the Sky Sox name and bring back link – the anthropomorphic sock logo.

    I will ALWAYS think of Socko when I think about the Sky Sox.
    I think I still have a pennant with Socko on it.

    Cubs INF Addison Russell broke his belt making a diving play last night, so he had to get a new one


    The blue and yellow Brannock looks pretty great!
    The Browns ticket package bummed me out. I’ve saved all my tickets for years, when the Phils won the series I had framed my tickets along with the newspaper from the next morning. Eagles went all digital a few years back, really bummed I couldn’t do the same for them this season.
    While I understand the convenience of digital tickets, for season ticket holders they really ought to keep on printing the tickets, they are a great keepsake. So much of sports is about the memories you have watching the games with friends and family, a ticket stub is such a wonderful thing to hang on to as a memento of those great days.

    Agreed. I have a ticket from last year’s Eagles/Bears game at the Linc… in my iPhone Wallet. Ugh. The Phillies have been threatening to stop printing tickets but I like the paper tickets. My dad and I used to go to the home opener – it always fell on or near his birthday – and I have those tickets saved, going back to 1983.

    Agreed. I understand the reasoning behind wanting to go digital, but there are plenty of ways to be “earth conscious” without eliminating something that many people hold onto as souvenirs.

    I have pretty much every ticket stub I’ve ever had from concerts and sporting events. They aren’t something most fans throw away. Mayyyyybe if your a STH and you have so many stubs it’s a hassle? I dunno. But for the average fan, it’s something I’d bet will be missed and eventually brought back after maybe some complaints?

    I just went back and forth with the Broncos about this. They’re all digital now and as a season ticket holder it’s common for me to give tickets as gifts. I called to ask how to do that since there’s nothing to give and a random email showing up isn’t as exciting as opening an envelope with tickets inside. They told me “You can pull up something like Word and make a little thing in there saying they’re getting tickets.”

    Make something in WORD? Just print out the tickets for us!

    Ticker stuff:

    Tottenham wearing their badge on a shield. That didn’t have to do with playing at Wembley, it was just a one-season retro thing that happened to appear last season. The team did it regularly in the past (one of the pictures from my entry yesterday was of the 1960-61 team that also wore a shield).

    The Club América player wearing No. 283. Every big Mexican team does that for their youth teams. The under-20 teams wear 280-310 or so and younger teams wear numbers in the 300s and lower 400s. No idea why.

    “Rugby league team Canterbury is facing potential sanctions”

    Can we say they’re from Australia?

    The Spurs away being same as Barcelona training tops is just a Nike template. Isn’t that top the same one in the Man City item, but in different colors? Also, wasn’t that the same top France had at the World Cup with the shoulder/sleeves in that frequency lines looking pattern?

    Templates. Boring! If you’re going to be a huge club, get Nike to make you something unique.

    Nike as well as adidas. It’s been bad for the past two or three years.

    Jamie, it’s so the youth players can be integrated into the senior team setup (like cup matches or friendlies) without having to print new kits for them. Saves money.

    Events Field Flannels is having their summer clearance sale. I just snagged my Uni-watch cap for a cool ten bucks off. Score!

    I need another cap like I need a hole in the head.

    So, three new holes in the head coming:
    Uni Watch cap, Winnipeg Whips, and Alaska Goldpanners.

    Paul, your report on the Brannock factory & your old article are incredibly interesting. It seems that the Brannock device has more functionality than a typical shoe store can use. I don’t recall ever having the length of my arch measured and it seems unlikely that a shoe salesman could direct me to a shoe that would suit my arch. Would this info have been used for making custom shoes?
    One of your photos has a new device labelled as Men’s. Are gender specific devices a recent innovation?

    I think if you go to a legit sneaker / running store they would use the device to its full functionality, recommending sneakers that are best suited for your arch, etc. They might also use this to get customized insoles.
    But as you say, a regular shoe store and/or big box sporting goods store really wouldn’t make use of all that.

    When used *properly,* they should be measuring your arch!

    Not sure when the gender-specific (and child-specific) versions were introduced. Definitely been that way for a while.

    This is strictly anecdotal, but for a bit when I was younger I worked at a mall store that sold athletic shoes and apparel.

    For the most part, people either knew which shoes they were looking for (especially when new Air Jordans were released) or would choose a display model that they thought looked cool and say, “you got these in a size 10 (or whatever)”.

    Usually, the few people who asked for a measurement were parents buying shoes for their kids.

    Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I measured my foot in one.

    I think growing up your parents, or an employee, measures your foot as a kid, as you grow, and at some point, since you stop growing, you just stop measuring.

    I’m 36, and have been buying the same size shoes for the last 15+ years or so. Now I wanna measure em…

    no need to apologize for that brannock trip. very interesting and thanks for posting that original article you wrote.

    I loved that line – “Perfection doesn’t require an encore”

    That’s what I was thinking. Anyone who visits this site and enjoys the minutiae of uniform details, can appreciate someone’s love for a similarly quirky interest.

    As a Tottenham fan, the Spurs/Barcelona thing drives me crazy. It’s just pure laziness from Nike, and it’s a signal to Spurs fans that Nike views them as second tier. I hope Spurs find a new jersey maker whenever this contract runs out.

    When Spurs wore Under Armour a few years back, it felt like they were unique, as no one else in the EPL was in UA stuff. It felt like UA were working for Tottenham, not the other way around.

    Yeah, it really did. All three kits from 16-17 we’re beautiful. Unfortunately, we’re going through the Nike and adidas template phase, which is dull and boring. My club team’s kit is just as interesting as half of the PL’s!

    THFC’s Under Armour kits were great, and then Nike comes in and immediately it’s literally just plain white and plain blue.

    Agree – though I kind of think the plain white home shirt makes sense for Spurs. The home kit this year with the high waisted shorts look is the definition of overly designed. On the “is it good or is it stupid” scale, those are definitely stupid.

    Small clarification to the ticker item re. Manchester United’s black shorts. They have worn black shorts lots of times (often with their home shirt), but white shorts have always been the official home shorts.

    Great article on the Brannock Device, really interesting!

    Hope to make it to the Stoop Sale, coming down from NH.

    DAGNABBIT! You have a good eye for stuff, Paul! I just can’t make the trip from ATL. Hope the clouds stay away!

    I’m already up here in NJ from Houston, TX, but I’ll be in Brooklyn today, as it happens, not tomorrow. My darn Jewishness strikes again.

    Best of luck with your sale. I hope the Times does cover it, but if not I’m looking forward to lots of photos on Monday

    In the soccer ticker, UEFA should be in capital letters as it stands for Union of Eurpoean Football Associations.

    Did you bid on the oldest Brannock device? Would have been great for your collection

    Paul – sorry if I missed it, but do you know how many Brannock devices are produced/sold annually by the factory?

    It kind of seems like the market for them would be pretty limited, especially with the decline of traditional retail.

    Possible new NOB font for Warriors looks fine but I much better prefer the current font. I hope they don’t change it.

    That’s so great that they allowed you to take video of the Brannock production process. Really interesting stuff. Thanks for it!

    Thanks for the Brannock report. Really and interesting entry. Did you have any opportunity to have/buy one of the devices (assume you don’t already have one other than your tat)? Did they let you take one of those little polishing stones for fun? That part was really interesting. When I see stuff like that I often always say to myself, “how the heck did they think to do that?” Much coolness!

    I already have my own Brannock Device. Would never ask for one of the cones — it’s part of their production process, not a souvenir!

    A couple notes on die cast aluminum: I work in the die casting industry, and it’s pretty common to have equipment manufacturers outsource the die casting of parts to an actual die casting company. Die casting machines are large and expensive to operate/maintain, so economically speaking it’s likely cheaper/easier to have a dedicated die casting company do the work for you rather than having on-site equipment used to only make 3 specific parts. The die casting companies can keep costs down by doing many different parts for many companies. It’s not all that uncommon to have one die cast machine making transmission casings for Ford vehicles right next to another machine casting engine blocks for Chevy!

    Also, the “stray pieces along the edge” of the parts are called “flash.” It’s where, as the dies start to age, small gaps form between the two halves. When a casting is made some aluminum will leak out and fill these gaps. Just some fun little trivia for you (if you didn’t already know).

    I love reading through the comments section and finding little bits like this. Seems like there is almost always a uniwatch reading with very specific knowledge about some random non-uniform topic that is discussed that day.

    Paul, you sound like a kid in a candy store (or, I guess, a shoe store) today. It’s great!

    (of course, now everyone I know knows what a Brannock Device is)

    Tugboat Captain’s response to today’s entry: “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you happier. Downright giddy!”

    Regarding the “factory” (really just an assembly site), while watching shows like “How it’s Made” i have a tough time watching most episodes. They either skip most of the process (“then this piece is attached to this one…”) or most of the stuff is pre made off site.

    To me, the devil is in the details. I wanna see the place that makes, say, the plates that are attached to the device, the place that manufactures the bases, the pointers, etc.

    I also obsess over the idea that someone had to not only come up with the manufacturing process itself, but often, someone had to create the machines that do the specialized tasks. and someone had to create machines, to make those machines, and so on.

    My mind often falls into that rabbit hole and it’s sometimes a curse. Lol.

    Very enjoyable video recap of the Brannock Device tour. Piece all the clips together and you’d have a serviceable How It’s Made episode!
    Regarding the question as to whether children’s sized Brannocks existed, I’m pretty certain I was measured in one over fifty years ago by my Dad, who worked for Clarks. Unfortunately I was being fitted for a pair of sandals much like these…


    This might explain the savage a$$ whoopings I received on a regular basis on the school yards.

    Regarding the Nola Tequila Sunrise jersey: apparently, according to the team store’s Twitter account, more of the shirts will be in the team store by the end of the year.

    The USOC needs to stop pestering high schools about their team names and start policing their coaches. Damn.

    I am hoping that the weekend Uni-Watch crew will have some live coverage or “play by play” of this weekend stoop sale. I also hope the newspaper reporter follows through.

    Manchester City is wearing a Special Olympics World Games 2019 kit tonight against Borussia Dortmund. Also, they are wearing a sponsor )which used to sponsor the Premier League) on the backs of their shirts.

    There’s so many reasons why it was a good day in Syracuse, but seeing that article must have been the cherry on top. Good for you Paul!

    Remember when the Diamondbacks used two single-digit “pitchers” in a blowout loss a few weeks ago? In a similar loss today, and with a day-night doubleheader on the horizon tomorrow, the Cubs conceded the game and have outdone them, using _three_: #2 Tommy LaStella, #7 Victor Caratini, and #8 Ian Happ.

    With #6 Carl Edwards in the bullpen, this makes four single digit pitchers this year, and if Jen-Ho Tseng goes back to the #1 that he wore in spring training and gets called up again (he wore 52 in am emergency spot start), they could have five.

    The Cubs could never have done this a few decades ago; when Yosh Kawano ran the clubhouse, they mostly gave single digits to the manager, coaches, and catchers. Maybe one or two fielders, but not to a real pitcher. I guess I’m just glad we’re not seeing multiple pitchers with numbers in the 60s…

    Seeing the usoc go after the high school for the name Olympians.. I’m wondering if that’s the only one they have gone after or if they sent that to all schools who use that kind of nickname. I know there’s one up here where i live that uses that nickname but might be too small of a school to be on their radar.

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