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James L. Easton '59

On the Mark: Innovation and Quality

James L. Easton

Easton Sports is a household name. And, thanks to the Easton family, aluminum and baseball go
together like “peanuts and Cracker Jack.” Yet, its household status was not earned overnight, and aluminum was just the beginning. Three generations of Eastons have manufactured sporting equipment that has always been at the top of their game with one simple phrase: “make the best products for the best athletes.”

This motto has fueled innovation at the company for decades.

Upon graduation from UCLA Engineering in 1959, James L. Easton began work for the Douglas Aircraft Company. After five years in the aircraft business, he began working for his father, James D. Easton, whom built a successful archery company based on his development of the first successful
aluminum arrow shafts.

Jim Easton convinced his father to enter a new market —ski poles — with a simple premise: use the skills the company has to create new opportunities. Since 1946, the business had developed expertise in making aluminum tubing after converting the centuries-old wooden arrows to aluminum, and this expertise made Easton the ideal maker of ski poles for Scott, the first aluminum ski pole maker.

Similarly, in 1969, the company began exploring the baseball bat market. In 1970, the average collegiate team was spending $15,000 for wooden bats; that’s nearly $80,000 today. The company began supplying Little League, then softball, and finally collegiate baseball teams; each time honing their skills to keep up with the demands of faster pitchers and more powerful hitters. For the intervening decades the company dominated the bat market for collegiate baseball and softball, Little League and even tee-ball.

Easton has a simple explanation for the company’s dominance: competitors had been wooden bat makers. They had never worked with drawing and tapering high strength aluminum tubing. This material and manufacturing process was new to them, and the Eastons had 25 years experience.

Easton has approached his business with the perspective of an engineer, a mechanical engineer to be precise. He knew the key to success would be to look into producing more products with the technical expertise and equipment the company already had perfected. And his constant pursuit of making the best performance and quality products — period — has made Easton a leader in nearly all sports where it competes.

Similarly, in the late 1980s, a hockey-playing engineer at Easton wanted to explore hockey as a potential market. The company introduced an aluminum-handled hockey stick with a replaceable wood-and-fiberglass blade. It caught on with some professionals, raising many eyebrows on and off the ice. Soon, hockey-legend Wayne Gretzky was knocking on Easton’s door. Gretzky, new to the Los Angeles Kings, had seen fellow players using Easton sticks, and asked for a couple built to his specifications. Shortly thereafter Gretzky converted, becoming the spokesman for Easton Hockey for seven years.

The future of innovation:
Easton recently funded research at UCLA Engineering for carbon nanotubes (CNTs), the technology that is presently used in his full-carbon bats as well as two-piece, part-carbon bats. CNTs also make up many of the full-carbon Easton cycling components and hockey sticks. These microscopic carbon CNT particles are mixed with CNT-strengthened epoxy resin that bonds the carbon fibers together, making an overall stronger composite.