1920s: Sports and Games
1920s: Sports and Games
Along with all the other grand titles of the decade, the 1920s were also known as "The Golden Age of Sports." Players in almost every sport far exceeded fans' expectations and became heroic legends who are still remembered. They included baseball greats Babe Ruth (1895–1948), Ty Cobb (1886–1961), and Lou Gehrig (1903–1941); football heroes Red Grange (1903–1991) and Knute Rockne (1888–1931); tennis aces Helen Wills (1905–1998) and Bill Tilden (1893–1953); and probably the greatest lightweight boxer Benny Leonard (1896–1947) and heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey (1895–1983). The dominating performance of Americans at the seventh and eighth Olympic games provided Americans with more reasons to follow their favorite sports than ever before. Radio broadcasts of athletic events turned local heroes into national sports icons for the first time.
With so many sports to choose from, Americans became truly sports crazy. Home-run hitter Babe Ruth led the New York Yankees to its first World Series win in 1923. College football rivaled baseball as the most watched American sport. The professional football game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears attracted 76,000 paying spectators in 1925. Boxing matches grossed millions of dollars. The Boston Celtics team boosted professional basketball by playing between 125 and 150 games a season for adoring fans. Golf was dominated by the "Three Musketeers"—Bobby Jones (1902–1971), Walter Hagen (1892–1969), and Gene Sarazen (1902–1999)—who popularized the sport and influenced the drive to construct both public and private golf courses around the country.
The huge sums American sports fans spent watching games funded the construction of giant stadiums for baseball and football. The 62,000-seat Yankee Stadium, or "The House That Ruth Built," opened in the Bronx, New York, in 1923. The 18,000-seat indoor arena at Madison Square Garden in New York City opened in 1925. And university football stadiums that held between 46,000 (University of Washington) and 100,000 people (University of Michigan) opened across the country during the decade. In addition, Americans' interest in playing sports themselves fueled the construction of various recreational swimming and multisport athletic clubs around the country.
Americans' love of sport included many recreational games and activities. Mah-Jongg, an ancient Chinese game, became a craze mostly among women in the 1920s. Introduced in 1922, the game outsold radios within a year and spawned the creation of more than twenty rule books and the sale of silk kimonos (which women donned while playing the game). Simon & Schuster started a nationwide craze with the publication of the first crossword puzzle book in 1924. Soon railroads carried dictionaries for use by their passengers, college teams competed in crossword puzzle tournaments, and the University of Kentucky even offered a course on the puzzle. Children twirled yo-yos and built frontier cabins with Lincoln Logs. For the more hearty, dance marathons, the longest of which lasted more than ninety hours, were held across the country.