The first tennis rackets, dating from 1874 when rules were first formalized, were made entirely from wood—usually ash because of its strength and the ability to bend it to a required shape—and strung with natural gut. These rackets were fashioned and glued into many variations within the familiar key-hole shape. As the game of tennis progressed, demand for more sophisticated equipment that suited a wider variety of playing styles also grew.
The transition from all wood/ash tennis rackets to a combination of wood and metal was a slow and difficult one; the “new and useful improvements” patented by Arthur Harris in 1923 were significant steps forward. The incompatability of tensioned gut strings with the sharp edges of holes drilled in the metal was the main difficulty, and was one of the major unsolved problems that led Harris to his patented improvements.
Harris’s patent was definitely pointed in the right direction. With improvements in metal alloys and new ways to utilize them, we finally saw development of the all-metal frame racket more than forty years later, when, in 1967, Wilson Sporting Goods introduced the first popular metal racquet—its T2000. Stronger and lighter than wood, it became a top seller, and Jimmy Connors became its most famous user, playing at the top of men’s professional tennis throughout the 1970s. The demand in the 80s for a more advanced racket suited to professional players drove the development of composite graphite materials for rackets. They were stronger, lighter, and offered improved control and therefore, accuracy.
Where tennis rackets go next is up for speculation, but, one can be sure that they won’t be made of wood again.