Things Still Made in America

TheStreet.com

From Apple (GS - News) iPads to fruit juice, many of our purchases these days rely on parts, labor or commodities shipped in from overseas.

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Once perceived as "American" brands, Levis, Wrangler and Radio Flyer red wagons are now made either south of the border or overseas.

Even that all-American paean to capitalism — the Monopoly game — has a workforce in Ireland that is churning out all those red hotels and green houses for Hasbro (HAS - News). Gerber may control nearly 80% of the country's baby food market, but since 1994 the company (owned by Nestle (NSRGY - News) after a $5.5 billion purchase from Novartis (NVS - News)), has been manufacturing overseas, abandoning its longstanding roots as a Michigan company.

Last month, a study conducted by global management consulting firm Booz & Co. with the University of Michigan's Tauber Institute for Global Operations, said the future of U.S. manufacturing is being decided now.

"Today, U.S. manufacturers provide about 75% of the products that Americans consume," the study says. "But that number could soar to 95% within a few years if business and government leaders take the right actions. Conversely, if the sector remains neglected, that output could fall by half, meeting less than 40% of U.S. demand."

The report was based on a sector-by-sector analysis of U.S. industrial competitiveness, along with a survey of 200 manufacturing executives and experts.

Among the recommendations:

The U.S. needs to build a better future with Mexico, shifting less-demanding, labor-intensive processes to that country while helping build a safer consumer economy there and retaining highly skilled work in the U.S.

America needs more robust manufacturing-education programs, immigration reform and to promote the attractiveness of manufacturing careers.

Public and private sectors can build geographical concentrations of suppliers, service providers and academic institutions, reinforced by investments in infrastructure.

The country needs also to simplify and streamline the tax and regulatory structure. The official statutory corporate tax rate stands at 39%. Closing the gap between statutory and effective rates (typically 28%) would be a revenue-neutral way to put U.S. manufacturing on a level global playing field.

While government officials debate these and other proposals, consumers can take matters into their own hands by buying American-made goods.

The following are things you can still buy that fit that category:

Motorcycles

Among the many points of pride for Harley-Davidson (HOG - News) owners is that the motorcycles are designed and made in the U.S.

In 1901, William Harley, a young man living in Milwaukee, came up with the concept of meshing a small engine with a bicycle frame. After considerable trial and error, Harley, working with his friends Arthur and Walter Davidson, developed a prototype of what would later evolve into the modern motorcycle.

In 1906, Harley and the Davidsons opened the Wisconsin factory that, to this day, serves as Harley-Davidson's corporate headquarters today.

While touting its U.S. workforce, the company has battled the import market for decades.

In 1952, it unsuccessfully lobbied for a 40% tax on imported motorcycles, but in the 1980s the company's complaints over Japanese imports led President Ronald Reagan to impose a five-year tariff plan. That 1983 plan raised the tariff of 4.4% all the way to 49.4% on Japanese imports with engines larger than 700 CCs, gradually decreasing, year-by-year, back down to 4.4%.

In 1987, declaring itself profitable and competitive once again, Harley-Davidson made the surprising move of advocating that the tariff schedule be stopped a year early.

A frequent debate among motorcycle enthusiasts has long been whether Harley-Davidson deserves the "made in the U.S.A." distinction, as various parts are imported from Japan, Germany, Italy and even Australia.

Also made in the U.S. since 1998 are Victory Motorcycles, based in Spirit Lake, Iowa. It is owned by Polaris, a Minnesota company best known as a manufacturer of snowmobiles. Polaris also owns the U.S.-made Indian Motorcycle brand.

Sports Equipment

No sport embodies Americana quite like baseball, and fans should be pleased to note that the classic Louisville Slugger baseball bat — used by approximately 60% of all Major League Baseball players — is indeed made here in the U.S.

The 120-year history of the bat starts with a 17-year-old named John A. "Bud" Hillerich, whose father owned a woodworking shop in Louisville, Ky., in the 1880s.

Legend has it — as told in the company's official history — that in 1884, Hillerich was attending a game played by the Louisville Eclipse when its star player, mired in a hitting slump, broke his bat. The young man offered to carve a new bat for the player; after a three-hit game the next day, word of mouth spread throughout the team and orders for bats started coming in at a brisk pace.

Hillerich's father, despite initial resistance, agreed to add bat making to his traditional trade of making stair railings and butter churns. In 1894, the name Louisville Slugger was registered with the U.S. Patent Office and, in the early 1900s, it pioneered a sports marketing concept by paying Hall of Fame hitter Honus Wagner to use his name on a bat.

Football fans are also doing their part for the U.S. economy.

Since 1941, Wilson Footballs has made the ball used in every NFL game (including all Super Bowls) and is the top manufacturer for the consumer market. Wilson also manufactures the official footballs of the NCAA.

Wilson's official football is called "The Duke," a reference to the nickname of the late New York Giants owner Wellington Mara.

In 1955, Wilson opened the Wilson Football factory in Ada, Ohio, described by the company as "the world's only dedicated football factory." Producing 4,000 footballs a day, the plant employs 120 people and production is done by hand.

According to the company, the NFL is the only major sports league whose balls are made in the United States. The cowhides come from cattle raised in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, with young, lean steers preferred over fat dairy cows because the leather is more resistant to stretching.

A less serious bit of sports equipment — the Whiffle Ball — was invented in the 1950s by a one-time semi-pro baseball player who created, and personally sold one by one, a ball to help kids throw curve balls.

Today, the family business maintains the longstanding tradition that every Whiffle Ball ever made is from Shelton, Conn.

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