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When Launceston-made tennis racquets ruled the world!

There was a time when the Cressy brand tennis racquet, made in Launceston at a factory in Newstead, was the first choice of local and world tennis champions.

Made from imported English ash in a patented process it dominated the Australian market for decades and sold in a dozen overseas countries.

The name came from the home town of Northern Tasmanian tennis champion W. J. (Bill) Sheehan and first appeared on racquets made by Hopwood and Co. in 1922 at their sporting goods shop in Brisbane Street (where Routley’s Menswear is today).

The tennis racquet was designed by Launceston Technical School teacher Alfred Alexander, who had been experimenting with tennis racquet construction.

With sporting store owner Stephen Bromby Hopwood, they formed the Alexander Patent Racket Company and made Australia’s first laminated-wood tennis racquet (the company always used the spelling ‘racket’ in its name).

The Alexander patent was based on the breakthrough of laminating thin strips of wood to form the head of the racket and extending down to the handle.

Previously, the head was shaped from a single piece of wood that was bent and then attached to the handle.

The Alexander racquet was lighter and stronger, and a world first. The company quickly moved from a one-room operation in Brisbane Street to a large industrial site in Newstead in 1925.

Bill Sheehan became its first business manager and introduced the placement of stickers and decals on the racquets, an innovation followed by other manufacturers.

The Alexander factory also made cricket bats from willow harvested on the banks of the North Esk River, golf clubs and hockey sticks but it was tennis racquets that made the company’s name.

As tennis moved from a game for the privileged classes to a much wider audience, the demand for tennis racquets boomed. Such was the interest in the sport that in October 1927, The Examiner ran a full-page description of how the Alexander tennis racquets were made.

By 1930s, the Launceston factory had a workforce of 200 and had made more than 60,000 tennis racquets. At one stage more than 400 racquets were being made each day of production.

The Alexander Patent Racket Company played a part in helping Launceston weather the Great Depression.

Australian champion John Herbert (Jack) Crawford, who was the world no. 1 player in 1933, was the international standard-bearer for Cressy tennis racquets.

In that year he won the Australian, French and British (Wimbledon) tennis championships with his trusty Cressy Wizard racquet made in Launceston.

By the 1950s big overseas companies had entered the Australian sporting goods market and the Alexander Patent Racket Company was struggling to compete.

The factory closed in 1961 and in 1968 its buildings became the home of the Launceston Police and Citizens Youth Club. The story of the Alexander Patent Racket Company is told in Christopher (Gus) Green’s 2011 book What A Racket.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, 4 February 2024.



Images -- TOP: Placing the celebrated flat-topped Cressy tennis rackets on drying racks. Picture: Weekly Courier, 17 August 1933. MIDDLE: Jack Crawford in 1933 holding his Alexander Cressy Wizard flat-topped racket. Picture: Public domain image. BOTTOM: Alexander tennis racket factory in Newstead. Picture: Examiner photo, 23 October 2016.

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