Before Modern Day Guns: The Very First Non-Official Baseball Speed Gun

High School Baseball PlayerDo you ever wonder how fast a baseball travels after a major league pitcher throws it? In the December 1912 issue of the Baseball Magazine, it depicted the earliest precise measurements decades before the creation of the modern-day baseball radar gun. shares more information about the story.

A Start of Something New

The piece entitled “One Hundred and Twenty-Two Feet a Second” wanted to measure future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson’s speed of pitches. In his era, he was internationally deemed as the hardest thrower. To accomplish this, the editors of the magazine requested the assistance of the Remington Arms Company in Connecticut.

You see, Remington has just developed a sophisticated electrical tool that can calculate the bullets’ speed once they get fired from a rifle. Then, they discovered that they could use the same tool to determine the speed of thrown baseballs.

Testing the Possibilities

During the experiment, Johnson had to pitch a baseball through a fragile wire mesh hanging on a wooden frame. After the ball brushed through the mesh, it would hit a solid steel plate attached to the wall beyond.

On both the steel plate and wires, they attached the device that calculated both impacts and the duration between them. Determining the distance between the plate and mesh enabled editors to figure out Johnson’s pitching speed.

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The fastest measured speed of Walter Johnson's throw was around 83 miles per hour or 122 feet per second. The editors emphasized that his speed was insanely impressive for it was faster than the swift Twentieth Century Limited railroad train moving at a mile per minute. He was even quicker that his throw is completely half the speed of one of the fatal bullets of Remington.

As a baseball fanatic, you might not be that impressed, considering the speed of most pitchers these days averaging 90 miles per hour. The only reason Johnson was slower back then was it took him several tries to finally steer the ball through the small mesh structure. During that time, they needed his accuracy more than speed.