The Penn Yan Peach Basket

It was just a simple, ordinary peach basket, and yet it was destined to play an important part in the sports history of this nation.

The story of the peach basket began some time in 1891 in a fruit market in New Haven, Connecticut. On this particular day over a half-century ago, a certain man entered a large fruit market in New Haven. Beneath his arms he carried a peach basket, for this man — Edson Potter of Penn Yan, New York — made peach baskets, and he carried a sample to show to prospective buyers.

Potter was the proprietor of the Yates Lumber Company in Penn Yan, and peach baskets were among its many products. So, on this particular day, Potter stood patiently among the shoppers hurrying to and fro, awaiting an opportunity to interview the various merchants for orders.

One of the shoppers, a man, pushed brusquely past our basket salesman. Or rather, the shopper started to push by, until his eyes fell on the peach basket. He stopped, and in his eyes came that expression which betokens the possible solution to a knotty problem.

The shopper introduced himself to Potter as James Naismith, and then Naismith told his chance acquaintance an interesting story. He related how he was perfecting a new sport, a game which could be played indoors. It would be to the winter season what baseball was to summer and football to fall.

Yes, as you have already guessed, this was the Jimmy Naismith, the man who deliberately set out to invent the game of basketball.

There was need for such a game to keep sports interest alive during the long winter months — a game exciting enough to hold fan interest and which could be played indoors. Other sports, such as football and baseball, were the gradual outgrowths of various games, but the unique thing about basketball was the fact that it was conceived as a new game from the very beginning.

Naismith confessed that he had met with some trouble in devising the type of goals to be used in this new game. In fact, the first goals used for experimental purposes were barrels, one being set up at each end of the court. But, for obvious reasons, they proved impractical.

“That peach basket you have,” Naismith told Potter, “has given me an idea. It may be the answer to what I have been looking for.”

So, Naismith asked Potter to send him a few peach baskets when the latter concluded his trip and returned to Penn Yan. Potter gladly promised, and when the end of his journey finally brought him back home, he immediately sent Jimmy Naismith a dozen of the Penn Yan peach baskets.

These peach baskets did solve the problem for Naismith. He fastened a basket at each end of the court and they proved to be the type of goals he had been searching for. Thus, a problem had been solved only by this chance meeting with a peach basket salesman.

The original basketball goals retained the basket bottoms for a time and so it was necessary, after each score, for an official to poke the ball back out for resumption of play. However, in the years which followed, the bottoms disappeared from the baskets and they evolved into the rims of steel, with netted sides — the baskets we know today.

Thus, a chance meeting between two men in New Haven, Connecticut, affected the game of basketball. We have often speculated as to what solution Jimmy Naismith might have reached as to a basketball goal if he had not been in the fruit market that day. Or, for that matter, If Edson Potter had not gone there to sell peach baskets.

So, the next time you are enjoying yourself at a fast-paced basketball game — be it professional, scholastic or amateur — when you glance at the goals, remember — they were born from a Penn Yan peach basket.

Thank you to the Ontario County Historical Society, which has allowed us to publish these narratives.


by A. Glenn Rogers
This story was originally published in 1953