The Ward’s Baking Company opened its doors in 1849 on Broome St. in New York by father James Ward and son Hugh. Thirty-five years later, Hugh Ward and his son Robert moved to Pittsburgh and opened a new branch of the bakery business. This move would solidify these two cities to dominate the early competitive bakery industry, specifically with their Tip-Top brand of bread.
The association between Ward’s bakery and sports started quite early with their issue of the 1910 Tip-Top Bread Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cards. The Bakery magnets, the “Ward brothers” of New York, in 1913 went so far as to purchase a Federal League baseball team and naming it, funny enough, the Tip-Tops!
In 1940, Wards Bread retained baseball's reigning MVP winner Joe Dimaggio, young pugilist and light-weight boxing champion Billy Conn, and infamous hockey player Eddie Shore who previously won four Hart trophies (League MVP) as a defenceman, which is still unmatched today. These three sports athletes who were all winners in their respective sports would endorse Ward's Bread on these 1 1/4" diameter pinback buttons that used real photography.
Due to Canada's entry into World War II in September 1939, which occurred just before the last hockey cards were released in 1940–41, this era is almost devoid of collectibles, at least in the arena of hockey. After this would follow a long decade that was basically vacant of anything substantial being issued for the hockey market in Canada, and even though the USA had four of the six hockey teams in the league, little interest was devoted to the sport of hockey or collectibles for that matter. Thus, this scarce Pinback button of hockey Hall of Famer's Eddie Shore pinback button is highly sought after by many prewar collectors but this is not to imply that DiMaggio is not also coveted but his is certainly more available in the marketplace. Billy Conn is also quite scarce to find and is comparative to the Shore in hockey button.
Although these pinbacks seem to have limited information on how and when they were buttons issued. Surely there would be many more around if they were offered either within their bread or through a bakery purchase premium or promotion. Advertisement's have been found for these three athletes but without a mail-in offer which leads us to believe that they were available through broadcast redemptions. Ward's Bread sponsored a great deal of radio commercials promoting various athletic events, and with that said, it would appear that these sports pin were issued to radio listening patrons of sporting events. Wards sponsored of broadcasts for Yankee games and out of New York’s Madison Square Garden’s, for hockey and boxing events. Although this is not officially confirmed to be how were issued but if I was a betting man….I’d bet.
The date of this issue comes from the US catalog of copyright:
Wards Baking Co. New York, Big League Winners Eat Wards, Joe Di Maggio, May 5 1940; A 111671 , (21718).
This timeline can only make sense as Eddie Shore who was with the Boston Bruins for 14 years prior was traded to the New York Americans on January 25th, 1940 and he played out the rest of the season, then retired from professional hockey. Now, would they even consider using Shore after his retirement, I would think not, as he only played 10 games for the Americans and wasn’t that well known in the Big Apple.
Why was the Billy Conn pin also offered, well, not so much due to him being a Pittsburgh native or of any relationship he had there with the bakery, moreover because of his famous fights at Madison Square Gardens in 1939 and 1940. He had become the number one contender for the world boxing championship fight against Joe Louis. An interesting sideline is that Billy Conn’s fiancé, Mary Louise, father was Jimmy Smith, the fiery second baseman of the 1917 World Champion New York Giants. Its kind of funny how Mary Louise had picked the one man to marry that wouldn’t be intimidated by an ornery father in-law.
Speaking or ornery, Eddie Shore was certainly known for being the National Hockey League's bad boy. The event that confirms Shore's demeanor came early in his career when he vengefully and violently hit to Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs and sent him head first into the ice, putting him in a comma for ten days. Although Bailey recovered, he would never play hockey again, but a fund-raising game was proposed and played with the league's best players versus the Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens. This was considered the very first All-Star game in the NHL and the imputes for annual All-Star games going forward. Eddie Shore ended up playing for the All-Stars team, the crowd of over 14,000 fans went completely silent at Maple Leaf Gardens as Shore slowly skated toward Bailey on the bench. After a moment, Bailey extended his hand towards Shore, and the crowd erupted in a loud cheer as the two shook hands.