Dr. James Naismith is best known world wide as the inventor of
basketball. He also led an exemplary life, following the values
he held dear. He was an educator and leader, dedicated to developing
character through sport, and devoted to serving society. His gift
of basketball is played in over 200 countries around the world.
Biography of James Naismith
on November 6 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. Son of John Naismith
and Margaret Young.
He attended the grade school at Bennie's Corners near Almonte.
the death of both his parents, plus his maternal grandmother,
he lives with his uncle Peter Young.
Almonte High School but less than two years later leaves his
studies for four years. He returned and completed his high school
equivalency in 1.5 years graduating in 1883.
McGill University in Montreal where he earns a BA in Physical
Education. He participates in football, rugby, lacrosse and
the Presbyterian College of Theology in Montreal and obtains
a diploma in 1890.
for America and Springfield College in Massachusetts.
the end of his studies he becomes a professor at Springfield
where he stays until 1895. During his vacation he goes to Martha's
Vineyard to learn about the Swedish principles of gymnastics
to adopt at his training school. In the autumn he takes up a
seminar in psychology created by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, the
director of the PE department. There is a need to create an
interesting indoor game becomes the resulting quest
December 21st the first game of Basket Ball is introduced to
James Naismith's class of secretaries. Following brief scepticism,
the game is a hit before the students depart for Christmas break.
becomes a big success: so successful in fact it is published
in 'Triangle' magazine under the title 'A New Game'. In January,
Frank Mahan demands the game be named 'Naismith Ball' but Naismith
June 20 he marries Maude E. Sherman from Springfield. The couple
will have five children: Margaret Mason (1895), Helen Carolyn
(1897), John Edwin (1900), Maude Ann (1904) and James Sherman
(1913). Together with Gulick he publishes the rules in the "American
Sports Publishing Company".
to Denver to become PE director at the YMCA where he'll stay
until 1898. At the same time he is attending the University
of Colorado Medical School (Gross Medical College) and graduates
director of the gymnasium, campus chaplain, and basketball coach
at University of Kansas.
an honorary Masters degree in PE.
"A Modern College".
to the Mexican frontier with his regiment for four months
as YMCA Secretary and spends 19 months working in France. Returns
the "Essence of a Healthy Life".
American citizenship to meet government requirements after serving
with the military.
the NABC initiative funds are created from the contribution
of coaches, players and spectators to send James Naismith to
Berlin for the Olympics through the Naismith Fund.
ceremony in Berlin (April 7): A tribute from the organizational
committee he throws the ball for the first match of the Olympic
wife Maude dies. On March 3 he becomes Professor Emeritus in
Kansas and retires at the age of 76 from the University.
the Legum Doctorate degree at McGill University.
Doctor of Divinity at the Presbyterian College in Montreal (April):
On June 11 he marries Florence Kincaid in Lawrence (Kansas):
November 19: suffers a brain hemorrhage; November 28: dies of
a heart attack aged 78 at his home 1515 University Drive. Lawrence.
voted Life Member of Physical Education Instructors of America.
His masterwork, "Basketball - its Origins and Development"
is published by the Associated Press Basketball. He was a member
of the Republicans and honorary president of the American Association
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Naismith Family Background
the hard times of the 1820's, the government of Britain arranged
for the settlement of its constituents in particular areas of Canada.
Specifying that the emigrants pay their own ship passage, the British
government agreed to provide tools, blankets, seed grain and small
sums of money to tide the settlers over until harvest next fall.
James Naismith's ancestors were among the multitudes of Scottish
immigrants to settle in Lanark County, Ontario, near the junction
of the Mississippi and Indian Rivers.
James' grandparents, Robert and Annie Young, arrived in Canada
in 1852. Annie reared eleven children. The fourth of these eleven
children was Margaret Young, James' mother, born in Scotland in
1833. A year after the Young's arrived, eighteen year old John Naismith,
James' father, left his parents and migrated from Scotland to the
Lanark District of Upper Canada. He soon moved to live and work
with his Uncle Peter who had arrived in Ramsay Township in 1832.
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The community in which the Young farm was located was the most
densely populated part of the township and was the place where the
first schools and churches were built. The eighth line had two thriving
settlements in the early days a few miles apart: Leckies Corners
and Bennie's Corners. In 1847 Bennie's Corners (named for the pioneer
postmaster in the village) had facilities more than adequate for
its population of 75 people: a school, a church, a blacksmith shop,
a shoemaker shop, a cooperage, a carriage shop, a general merchandise
store and a post office. Within reasonable distance were a tannery,
a carding mill, a weaving shop, a timber slide and sawmill, and
Unfortunately, a fire in 1851 destroyed the village of Bennie's
Corners and it was never fully rebuilt. Bennie's Corners in the
1870's, the time of James Naismith's adolescence, was no longer
an important crossroad. It consisted of a few residences, a store,
and a blacksmith shop and one very important institution--the schoolhouse.
Here James received his grade school education.
the decline of Bennie's Corners from a thriving village to a minor
cross-roads, the settlement now known as Almonte became the economic,
social and cultural centre for the area. Named by the Scottish-Irish
Canadian group of settlers to honour General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte,
the Mexican ambassador to the United States in 1856, Almonte was
one of the first villages in the Ottawa Valley. This textile-manufacturing
centre of the country formed where the Mississippi River showed
a sixty-two foot drop in three stages, making a tremendous supply
of water available to generate power. This town is the town where
James would attend high school and church.
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James Naismith: The Early
Born near Almonte, Ontario on November 6, 1861, James was the eldest
son of Scottish immigrants John and Margaret Naismith. In 1869,
at the age of eight, James moved with his family to Grand Calumet
where his father began work as a saw hand. Orphaned at age nine,
when his parents contracted typhoid fever while working in the milling
community. When their grandmother died in 1872, the Naismith children,
Annie, James and Robbie, were left under the care of their authoritarian
uncle, Peter Young.
James cut across the fields to attend grade school in a one-room
schoolhouse in Bennie's Corners. Jim was known in the neighborhood
as a strong and skillful boy, but at school his monthly report cards
showed poor grades. Mr. Thomas B. Caswell, James' grade school teacher,
instructed him in reading, writing, arithmetic, advanced mathematics,
Latin grammar and other subjects. Although not the head of his class
in academics, he was a leader among his peers in all physical activities
and showed signs of becoming a fine athlete. James attended high
school in a gray limestone building in Almonte.
Before and after school hours, Jim was assigned chores around the
farm and worked in the woods. Jim learned to chop trees, saw logs,
and drive horses. The walk from the farm to school was 5 miles.
Jim learned early many lessons in honesty, initiative, independence,
and ruggedness. Uncle Peter put great stock in reliability and self-reliance.
When Jim was sent into the field or the woods with a team of horses,
he was expected to do the assigned job without asking for help.
If trouble arose, he was depended upon to take care of it himself.
Despite the burden of farm duties, there was time for play. In Bennie's
Corners the blacksmith shop was the gathering spot for the children
of the area. Here they enjoyed watching the blacksmith work his
materials and playing in the sugarbush behind the shop. Where a
tree or boulder served as a convenient base, they played variations
of tag and hide-and-seek or tried their skill at "duck on the
rock" - a game which combined throwing with tag using a large
base stone to be guarded by the one player.
In the fields, creeks and rivers beyond the blacksmith shop Jim
and his friends found more space to play. With each season came
a different opportunity for recreation.
In the fall, James was involved in hunting. In the surrounding
forests the local boys hunted squirrels, partridge and snowshoe
hare with bows and arrows. As they grew and matured they were given
guns to hunt deer and Canadian lynx.
During the winter, snowshoeing, ice hockey, skating, and tobogganing
were favorite activities. Not willing to ask his uncle for a pair
of skates, James fashioned a pair for himself by setting metal files
into pieces of wood.
In the spring, "sugaring-off" occurred in the Ontario
maple groves. The making of maple sugar provided a fun time for
Jim and his friends.
With summer came swimming. Jim used to lead boys across the fields
and through the woods to favorite swimming spots in the Indian and
Mississippi Rivers where they frolicked, swam and balanced on floating
In all outdoor activities Jim was a leader. He was one of the strongest
and most skilful boys in the neighborhood.
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on a Rock
This stone sat in the blacksmith's yard adjacent to the Bennie's
Corners school in Ramsay Township where James attended. They played
a game on this stone called "Duck on a Rock" which was
a game that combined tag with throwing. Players formed a line from
a distance of 15-20 feet from the base stone. Each player used a
fist-sized stone. The object was to dislodge the "guards"
stone from the top of the base stone, by throwing, taking turns.
The guard would be positioned in a neutral area away from the thrower.
If one succeeded, they would go to the back of the line. If you
missed the guards' stone, the "chase" would be on and
if tagged before the stone was recovered, the players would trade
Over time, they discovered that if the stone was hurled like a
baseball it would bound far away and increase the likelihood of
being caught by the guard. The players developed a lobbed arcing
shot that proved to be more controllable, more accurate, and less
likely to bounce away, thus increasing their chance of retrieval.
When he was given the task of introducing a new indoor game in
1891, he was given two main objectives - "make it fair for
all players, and free of rough play".
James analyzed the games of the day (rugby, lacrosse, football,
soccer, hockey and baseball) and observed that the larger ball didn't
move as swift as the smaller balls, so he chose the soccer ball
for the new game. Next he observed that contact and rough play in
the other games occurred when the object was carried, dribbled,
stick handled etc. His first decision was to remove running with
The next observation was that there was much jostling and rough
play in the defense of the goal, net or goal line in the other games.
He chose to place the goal over head where it couldn't be guarded.
This posed a new problem, since this was the first game with the
goal above the plane of the playing area. How would they shoot to
Remembering back to "Duck on a Rock" and how successful
the lobbed arcing shot proved, he incorporated it into the shooting
method for his new game Basket Ball.
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Athlete and Scholar
At McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Jim Naismith began a
four year Bachelor of Arts program. Jim studied as he had never
studied before. He made the decision to put sports aside and spend
all his time on assignments. That was, until one day when two fellow
students convinced him of the need to join the athletic program
at the university for the sake of keeping fit.
Jim headed for McGill University's gymnasium where he soon began
participating in the gymnastic and rugby program. By his junior
year, he was winning the university's highest honours for his athletic
involvement. Jim had time for extracurricular interests, joining
the student government and Literary Society for which he debated.
He was also a member of the Society choir.
In 1887, after four successful university years, he was cited on
the Prize and Honour List for having passed the Bachelor of Arts
in Honours in philosophy and Hebrew. He graduated as one of the
top ten in his class on April 30, 1887.
After graduation Jim enrolled in the largest theological school
affiliated with McGill University, the Presbyterian College. To
finance his education he accepted an appointment as instructor of
physical education in the gymnasium at McGill. As a student in a
theological program, he studied hard and became involved in extracurricular
religious activities. He was a member of staff of the Presbyterian
College Journal, active in the Literary and Philosophical Society,
and in the Missionary Society.
Although James won theological scholarships, he dismayed colleagues
and professors by continuing his involvement in athletics. He played
lacrosse - a sport occasionally referred to at the time as "legalized
murder", and rugby - a hard hitting sport, which some considered
a tool of the devil. Jim was advised to leave the evils of the athletic
life and devote himself to books and Christian duties. James' views
of athletics differed from those of his instructors. He continued
his involvement with sports.
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A New Path
During a rugby game in his senior year in seminary, a player on
Jim's team uttered some profanity, then apologized to Jim explaining
" I forgot you were there." These words changed the course
of James' life. From this remark he began to play with the idea
of helping men through athletics and the ministry.
The Young Men's Christian Association (founded in London nearly
a half century before) had been established in Boston and Montreal
in 1851. Jim often visited the YMCA in Montreal and had become acquainted
with the general secretary D.A. Budge. Jim explained to Budge his
idea of helping young athletes. It was through Budge that Naismith
learned of the Y.M.C.A International Training School in Massachusetts
for the education of laymen-leaders of youth. Shortly thereafter,
Jim left the Presbyterian College as an non-ordained minister to
pursue a career with an emphasis on physical education.
In the late summer of 1890, after spending some time learning about
the YMCAs in Canada and the U.S., Jim bid farewell to Bennie's Corners
and Almonte and traveled to Springfield to enroll at the YMCA Training
school. Here he would take courses that emphasized spiritual and
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The Years at the "Y"
at the YMCA training school, James took and taught various courses,
and played rugby for the YMCA
At this stage in its development, indoor physical education in
the U.S. consisted of calisthenics, gymnastics, and drills. The
late 1870's and 80's saw a rise in interest in outdoor intercollegiate
sports, especially track and field and football, and participation
in these games at the YMCA increased. But between the close of the
football season in the fall and the opening of the baseball season
in the spring there was emptiness.
Recognizing the danger of overemphasis on exercises that demanded
excessive routine and wanting to bring recreational sports into
the gymnasium the superintendent, Luther Gulick, assigned James
and the other students the task of inventing new games.
The needs to revamp the indoor physical education program grew
quickly, as one group of students, primarily mature men, were losing
interest in the existing program. After two instructors of this
group of students asked for relief from instructing this class,
Gulick assigned Naismith as the instructor, asking him to see what
he could do with the class and the program.
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He embarked on a career in Physical Education through the YMCA,
took time out to earn his Medical Degree while operating the Denver
YMCA. This led him to accept the positions of Physical Education
Director, Campus Chaplain and Basketball Coach at the University
of Kansas. He remained there from 1898 until his retirement in 1938.
In between, he served twice in military conflict, including WWI
in France, and saw his gift of basketball admitted into the Olympic
Family of sports at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. To see the youth of
the world united to play his game, his gift to mankind, basketball.
It remains the highlight of his career in his words.
He succumbed to heart trouble on November 29th, 1939. His legacy
is reflected in the games played around the world, the basketball
nets that adorn garages, walls and barns in communities' abroad.
And finally, in schools and YMCA's around the world, the first game
requiring a high ceiling space for a gymnasium.
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He is remembered in the communities that he has most closely been
associated. Streets and building in Almonte, Springfield and Lawrence
are named in tribute. He is a member of the following Halls of Fame
||Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame
||Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
||Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
||Canadian Sports Hall of Fame
||Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame
||Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame
||McGill University Sports Hall of Fame
||Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame
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