Rural Americans were also able to enjoy live sporting events that were broadcast across the nation via the radio. Newspapers and magazines added to the popularity of sports and there was newsreel coverage of sports at the movies.
Mass advertising during popular sporting events promoted a vast range of new products in the consumer society of America. The most popular sports in the 1920's were boxing, baseball, basketball and football but other sports also attracted vast interest such as ice hockey, tennis, athletics, golf and swimming, especially when sports stars achieved worldwide success. The sports stars of the 1920's were idolized as much as the Hollywood movie legends of the era. Sporting heroes of the 1920's included Jack Dempsey, Johnny Weissmuller, Helen Wills, 'Red' Grange, Gertrude Ederle, Joe Lweis, Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth.
Facts about Sports in the 1920's
Leisure Time: Leisure time in America increased due to Industrialization and the introduction of new machinery, movement of people from the 24/7 requirements of rural life to less time intensive urban life in the cities and the economic boom of the 1920's.
Popularity of Sports: The popularity of competing in sports, and watching sporting events, increased as a result of more free time and more money to spend on leisure activities.
Organized Sports: Sports in the 1920's saw the development of organized sports and the rise in popularity of collegiate sports in America.
College Sports for Men: The vast majority of College students in the 1920's were men and its history dated back to 1859. The first Sporting favorites at college included baseball and football but the range soon extended to include athletics, gymnastics and basketball. Spectators and gate receipts became a regular part of college games..
College Sports for Women: The number of women attending college rose to just 10% of the population by the end of the 1920's. Physical Education was a feature of college life for women but did not include competitive games or those requiring any form of physical contact. Instead women participated in more 'genteel' sporting activities such as bowling, golf, boating, ice skating, tennis, archery, swimming, and horseback riding.
Professional Sports: Boxing and baseball were the first professional sports. Professional football began during the 1920s.
Elitist Sports: Tennis, Golf and Polo were considered more as elitist sports for the wealthy due to the 'country club' background of golf, polo and tennis and as a result were dominated by wealthy white players.
Spectator Sports and Stadiums: Spectator sports such as basketball, baseball and boxing reached new heights of popularity in the 1920s and massive stadiums were built in cities to cater for the increasing interest of people who wanted to watch and enjoy the excitement of spectator sports.
Madison Square Garden: Madison Square Garden was originally an indoor arena as a theater, for concerts and also housed a restaurant. Madison Square Garden was rebuilt in 1925 in order to hold popular sporting events such as boxing, basketball and ice hockey. Madison Square Garden rebuilt in 249 days at the cost of $4.75 million by boxing promoter Tex Rickard.
The Yankee Stadium: The Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx, in New York City was built in 1927 as a ballpark for baseball. The Yankee Stadium was built from 1922 - 1923 for $2.4 million ($32 million equivalent today). Yankee Stadium officially opened on Wednesday, April 18, 1923, with the Yankees' first home game, against the Boston Red Sox. It was given the nickname, "The House That Ruth Built" in reference to Babe Ruth, the legendary baseball superstar whose popularity coincided with the opening of the stadium and the winning successes of the Yankees.
Advertising: Sporting events attracted the attention of millions in America together with companies and advertisers who employed mass advertising and marketing techniques. sporting stars were hired to advertise a range of different products. In 1928 Coca-Cola became the first company to sponsor the Olympic Games.
National Air Races: The National Air Races, also known as Pulitzer Trophy Races, began in 1920 when publisher Ralph Pulitzer sponsored an air race on Long Island, New York in an effort to promote aviation. Refer to Early US Aviation
Baseball's World Series: Baseball's World Series was broadcast on radio for the first time in October 1921
Horse Racing: Horse Racing was another spectator sporting event the most famous being the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes
Professional Tennis: Tennis was professionalized in 1926 when C.C. "Cash and Carry" Pyle persuaded talented tennis players to join a national professional tennis tour. The most famous name in American professional tennis was William "Bill" Tilden
Discrimination and Prejudice: There was Discrimination and Prejudice in every aspect of the 1920's sporting arenas, just as in every other aspect of American society. Racial prejudice against African Americans were prevalent as was discrimination from the "New Immigrants" from South-western Europe such as Italy, Greece and Poland . The infamous Jim Crow Laws restricted whites and blacks from playing baseball, basketball and football together. Black boxers were even forbidden from sparring with white boxers. Refer to Old Immigrants vs New Immigrants and Jim Crow Laws for facts and info. The pride inspired by the Harlem Renaissance inspired African Americans to excel in the American sporting arena.
Women: Women had also been treated as 'second class citizens'. However times were changing in the 1920's. Women gained the right to vote in 1920 and the Roaring Twenties saw the emergence of Flappers who challenged traditional ideas in social conventions and influenced women's fashion - including sporting attire for women.
Fashion and Sportswear for Women: Women's fashion changed and short knickerbockers and baggy trousers came into vogue enabling women to enjoy comfortable sports clothing for golf and and the new rage for bicycling. Famous fashion designer Jean Patou introduced styles suited to outdoor fashion and women's sportswear. He moved fashion towards the natural and comfortable clothes and became famous for his daring sleeveless and knee-length tennis dress that he designed for Suzanne Lenglen, the legendary French tennis champion. For more facts refer to 1920's Fashion for Women.
Fashion and Sportswear for Men: Sports and leisure influenced fashion and sportswear for men. New, casual attire like jumpers, jodhpurs, plus-fours and knickerbockers. College sporting stars inspired the widespread fashion of 'letterman sweaters'. For more facts refer to 1920s Men's Fashion.
Negro League Baseball: In 1924 the Negro League held its first world series, its sports stars were Oscar Charleston and Satchel Paige.
The Harlem Renaissance: The Harlem Renaissance was a period during the 1920s when African-American achievements in art, literature and music flourished. The Harlem Renaissance was important because it inspired an explosion of pride and was perceived as a new beginning for African Americans and led to many achievements by African American sports heroes..
The Harlem Rens: The New York Renaissance all-black professional basketball team, nicknamed the "Harlem Rens", was established in 1923, and became the first professional basketball team. The Harlem Rens beat the Original Celtics, the dominant white team of the time, to claim the title of world championson December 20, 1925. The Harlem Rens changed the focus of black basketball from amateur teams to professional teams.
Harlem Globe Trotters: The "New York Harlem Globe Trotters" were formed in 1927 at a time when only white players were allowed to play on professional basketball teams. The first players in the Harlem Globe Trotters were Walter "Toots" Wright, Willis "Kid" Oliver, Andy Washington, Byron "Fat" Long, and Al "Runt" Pullins.
Joe Lewis: Joe Lewis, nicknamed the 'Brown Bomber', was a heavyweight boxing champion of the world achieved the status of a nationwide hero.
Henry McDonald: Henry McDonald became the first black athlete to play professional football. Henry McDonald became the best known black American pro player during the era prior to the formation of the National Football League in 1920.
Jesse Owens: Jesse Owens was trained by the enthusiastic Charles Riley, his junior high track coach at Fairmount Junior High School and went on to attend Ohio State University. Jesse Owens won accolades for black athletes by taking four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics for the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and the 4x100 relay
Johnny Weissmuller: Johnny Weissmuller was a famous record breaking swimmer, the winner of five Olympic gold medals and 67 world titles. In 1929 Johnny Weissmuller went to star in Hollywood movies and made a name for himself playing the role of Tarzan in several films.
Helen Wills: Helen Wills, nicknamed "little miss poker face", was a outstanding tennis player. She won her first major title, the U.S. girls’ championship, in 1921 when she was just 13 years old. Helen Wills went on to become a seven-time U.S. champion and and eight-time Wimbledon winner.
Bobby Jones: Bobby Jones was a wealthy, amateur golf player and sports star. In the eight golfing seasons from 1923 to 1930, Bobby Jones won 13 major championships, including 5 U.S. Amateurs and 4 U.S. Opens
Walter Hagen: Walter Hagen gained fame for his golfing achievements of the 1920's. He was winner of 5 PGA championship games and 2 two U.S Opens.
Lou Gehrig: Lou Gehrig was a baseball player who was signed to the Yankees in 1923. He was renown for his bravery and endurance who continued to play regardless of injury - a real sports hero..
Elizabeth "Betty" Robinson: Elizabeth "Betty" Robinson was an amazing female runner who qualified for the 1928 Olympic team. Betty Robinson won the first Olympic gold medal given to a woman in track and field athletics.
Knute Rockne: Knute Rockne was a Norwegian-American football player who became famous as the most famous of all football coaches in America. Under Knute Rockne, the University of Notre Dame teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5 from 1918 through 1931 and were declared national champions in 1924, 1929, and 1930.
William "Bill" Tilden: Bill Tilden was a tennis sports star and became the first American to win Wimbledon, in 1920. He became a member of the American Davis Cup Team leading the team to seven consecutive victories from 1920 - 1926.
Babe Ruth: Babe Ruth was a Baseball sports star who became a national hero, famous for hitting hundreds of home runs. In 1920 Babe Ruth hit over 54 home runs and in 1927 he hit 60. Babe Ruth won the World Series on 7 different occasions. His real name was George Herman Ruth he was nicknamed “Babe” when he was under contract to Jack Dunn and a sportswriter referred to him as one of “Dunn’s babes.” Babe Ruth became a multi-millionaire earning over $2,000,000 during his career.
Jack Dempsey: Jack Dempsey was a famous boxer who held the title of world heavyweight champion
Gene Tunney: Gene Tunney was the Heavyweight Champion of the world from 1926 - 1928. His sporting accomplishments were honored when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
The First $2 million gate : More than 104,000 spectators attended Dempsey vs. Tunney II at Soldier Field in Chicago on September 22, 1927 and produced a gate of $2.65 million. Jack Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney in round 10 of 10 by a unanimous . The Dempsey camp bitterly complained that Jack Dempsey had been robbed by a "slow count". The fight became known as the 'Battle of the Long Count'
Red Grange: College football was extremely popular in the 1920's. One of its most famous players was Red Grange of the University of Illinois. Red Grange then played for the Chicago Bears and became known as the “Galloping Ghost” due to his speed and ability to evade members of opposing teams.
Gertrude Ederle: Gertrude Ederle was an American competition swimmer, sports star and Olympic champion. In 1926 Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel, breaking the male record.
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