The St. Vincent Story
This ex-Wilson factory would likely be a footnote in the history of racquet production were it not for Pete Sampras. It has become common knowledge among Sampras fans and ProStaff officianados that Pete only plays with racquets that were made in St.Vincent, a Carribean island in the Grenadines.
The island of St. Vincent was originally chosen as a manufacturing site by a group of Wilson VPs who were touring the Carribean region, searching for a suitable factory site. Why the Carribean? If you've spent a winter in Wilson's hometown of Chicago, you wouldn't need to ask. Ken Sherman, ex-Wilson engineer explains more seriously, "the Caribbean region was attractive as a manufacturing location due to its tax-free status. No taxes were paid on materials going in and no taxes paid on finished products coming out. At the time, St. Vincent was already manufacturing clothing, gloves, etc. There was a factory shell that had been originally built to produce Maidenform bras but Wilson ended up buying it in 1982 to finish and assemble raw frames produced in our Chicago factory. In 1983, Wilson changed it into a manufacturing house and it produced a variety of models, including the ProStaff Original. When we started, there were 50-60 workers finishing and assembling racquets. When the factory closed in mid-1991, there were over 450 direct laborers manufacturing, finishing and assembling Wilson racquets."
What made St. Vincent ProStaffs so special? Ken responds, "it was a combination of factors. One difference was that the workers had no previous experience and thus had no bad habits. We trained them how we wanted racquets made and they followed our instructions to a tee. They were loyal, hard workers and competed against each other for the lowest number of rejected racquets, keeping work areas neat, etc. As a result, our reject rate was close to zero. Also, each frame was bar-coded and tracked from start to finish through the manufacturing process. Consequently, if a racquet was too heavy, we could determine where the error originated. This resulted in very high quality control." David Price, former Engineering Manager at the St. Vincent factory from 1989-1991 continues, "the key to our quality and consistency was the sophisticated tracking system. We had huge amounts of statistical data from measuring raw materials and racquets up to 20 times during the manufacturing process. Our quality control was second to none in the industry at that time." Rich Janes, a former colleague of Sherman and ex-Wilson engineer adds, "there was also the molds. Over time, they became worn and a little loose and they wouldn't close completely. As a result the ProStaff Original came out at 18mm, instead of 17mm." Nobody at Wilson can confirm this but it adds to the St. Vincent factory's mystique. Whatever the real reasons, a few top players just prefer the feel of ProStaffs manufactured in St. Vincent. Who's gonna argue with Pete Sampras?
A Brief History of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an independent state with a stable, democratic government. Formerly part of the British colony of the Windward Islands from 1871 to 1969, it became a British Associated State for 10 years prior to full independence in 1979. The governmental system is based on the British system. English, with a unique Vincentian / British accent is spoken throughout the islands.
The British era of the islands' history covers only a short period of time. Archaeologists' research name the prehistoric settlements in the Grenadines as the last intact chronological evidence of South American cultures migration to the area. Buried in the scrub and soil, the Archaeologists found a great diversity of ceramic styles from these migrations.
Roughly hewn stone and shell tools and axes made by stone-age men more than 7000 years ago are found in the islands. These tools belonged to a group of hunter-gatherers, the Ciboneys, who explored and lived on the islands eating fruit and berries, seashells and the pink conch.
More than 200 years before Christ, another culture travelling in 50 foot dugout canoes arrived in these islands. The Arawaks carried fire-burners, animals and plants. During a 1500 year period the West Indian islands were peaceful, but the peaceful Arawaks could not survive another invading people, the Caribs.
In 1498 on his third voyage, Christopher Columbus sighted a new island. Hairoun, the Indian name for the island, "was a land blessed with rainbows, mist, fertile valleys and sun." Columbus named the island "St. Vincent" after the Spanish saint. But, the Caribs were a formidable force and the reefs of the Grenadines so treacherous that the Spanish avoided them altogether. In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh visited St. Vincent briefly and came away with the impression that the island was inhabited by cannibals and savages. It was not for nearly 200 years that any Europeans were able to settle on the islands. The Caribs of St. Vincent, living in the densely forested, mountainous interior were able to resist European settlement longer than any other island in the Caribbean.
The Caribs of St. Vincent were joined by Caribs fleeing the Europeans on other islands, and also by runaway African slaves and slaves who survived shipwrecks in the area. News of the free men on St. Vincent spread throughout the islands. By 1676, 30% of the population of St. Vincent consisted of former slaves.
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