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History

Changes in American culture and society

Why did sport and other leisure activities witness so much growth during this period?

The increasing popularity of sports

  • During the years after the First World War, people had more free time and money for leisure activities as a result of new machinery and the economic boom.
  • In this period, organised sports [Organised sports: Sports were given a new structure in which the emphasis was on the games, centres and supporters. ] developed, especially baseball, boxing, tennis and golf. Stadiums such as the Yankee Stadium (1923) were erected, and Madison Square Garden was rebuilt in 1925 in order to hold sporting events, eg boxing, ice hockey and basketball.
  • Events could be broadcast live across the USA on the radio. The programmes provided live commentary and descriptions of various sporting events as they happened. The effect of this was to generate huge enthusiasm about sport and increase the popularity of the radio too.
  • Sports became a profitable business, attracting more and more people. Coca-Cola was the first company to sponsor the Olympic Games in 1928.
  • The appeal of the icons of the time, heroes such as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, attracted an increasing amount of people to go and watch organised sports.

Sporting heroes

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth, was undoubtedly the sports star of the 1920s. His nickname was The Bambino or The Sultan of Swat. Babe Ruth was by far the best baseball player of his time. He was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees in 1919 and earned over $2,000,000 during his career. He was also responsible for changing the way baseball was played, from being a slow game to a fast game with a lot of points being scored. 1927 was a remarkable year for Babe Ruth. He was a member of the celebrated Yankees team that won the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Ruth succeeded in hitting 60 home runs in one season – a record that stood until 1961.

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world between 1919 and 1926. His nickname was The Manassa Mauler and he was famous for his hard-hitting and vicious style. He was one of the first well-paid boxers, and the first to earn $1,000,000 for one fight. His battles against Gene Tunney were famous, and when he was defeated by Tunney in 1926 there were 120,557 people in the audience (a world record for any sport apart from football and car racing). Al Capone offered to ensure a victory for Dempsey in a fight between them in 1927, but Dempsey refused. He lost again to Tunney even though he floored him for 14 seconds in the seventh round (The Long Count).

Gertrude Ederle

Gertrude Ederle

There were numerous heroes in other sports too. 'Big' Bill Tilden was the first American to win Wimbledon, in 1920. In 1926 Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel, breaking the male record. One of the stars of American football was 'Red' Grange, who played for the Chicago Bears. Walter Hagen won a number of golf tournaments, including the PGA 5 times, in 1921 and 1924-27. In 1922, he became the first American to win the British Open Championship.

Back to The USA, A nation of contrasts, 1910-1929 index

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