News & Opinion | May 14, 2018 5:00 am

René Lacoste Invented Way More Than Just the Polo Shirt

He also invented the tennis ball machine and steel tennis racket.

René Lacoste
French tennis player Rene Lacoste smiles after winning the Men's Single Final against Henri Cochet at Wimbledon. (Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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René Lacoste may be best known for the collection of traditional crocodile polo shirts, but he did a lot more than that. Lacoste is currently celebrating its 85th anniversary this year with a series of new releases, including a collection that is replacing that crocodile with icons of endangered species, customizable polo shirts and an anniversary collection that features 15 of its vintage designs. In honor of the anniversary, Town & Country looked back at René Lacoste’s accomplishments.

He won 10 grand slam tennis tournaments in the 1920s and ’30s. He invented the polo shirt for tennis purposes — he wanted something more comfortable to wear in competitions than the long-sleeved shirts of the time. He also invented the tennis ball machine (because he wanted to work on his overhead) as well as the first steel tennis racket. Lacoste filed 20 new patents between the 1960s and ’80s after retiring from the sport in 1932.

“Inventor should be on my business cards,” Lacoste once said, according to Town & Country. “I’ve been inventing all my life!”

The alligator on Lacoste shirts is meaningful too. An American journalist gave Lacoste the nickname “The Alligator” after hearing him make a bet with his coach over an alligator-skin suitcase that he would win the Davis Cup in Boston. Lacoste also once said that the nickname “highlighted my tenacity on the tennis courts, never giving up my prey.” He would take pages of notes on his opponents. The French Open stadium, Roland Garros, was built for René Lacoste and his teammates Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, and Jean Borotra, who were collectively known as the “Four Musketeers.”