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1850-1877: Sports and Recreation: Chronology

1850-1877: Sports and Recreation: Chronology




  • Amateur New York baseball clubs proliferate, adopting the rules proposed by Alexander J. Cartwright in 1845 for his New York Knickerbockers.
  • A Salem, Massachusetts schoolteacher invents Anagrams, a word game that will gain wide popularity.


  • 22 Aug. The U.S. Schooner America wins the Americas Cup, the trophy for a race around the Isle of Wight staged by the Royal Yacht Squadron.


  • Harvard and Yale oarsmen compete informally in the first intercollegiate competition.


  • Freehold Raceway opens at Freehold, New Jersey, with harness races.
  • The Hippodrome, which seats forty-six hundred people, opens in New York City. Its shows feature acts such as acrobats, clowns, and chariot races.
  • The state legislature authorizes New York City to buy land for a public park. The purchased 624 acres is bounded on the south and north by fifty-ninth and one hundred sixth Streets and on the east and west by Fifth and Eighth Avenues.
  • 14 July Opening of the first U.S. worlds fair in New York City. The Crystal Palace Exposition is modeled on the 1851 London Great Exhibition.
  • 12 Oct. John C. Morrissey wins the boxing heavyweight championship, defeating Yan kee Sullivan on a technicality.


  • A horse named Flora Temple breaks the 2:20 mile.


  • Fairmount Water Works is completed in Philadelphia. It will be the basis of Fairmount Park, the nations largest urban park at 3,845 acres.


  • In the New York sporting paper Spirit of the Times baseball is called the National game in the region of the Manhattanese.


  • Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted is appointed to supervise the construction of New York Citys Central Park.
  • The first U.S. racing shell, The Harvard, is built for the Harvard Boat Club of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • May At a convention called by the Knickerbockers, New York baseball clubs decide that nine innings, not twenty-one runs, should determine the length of a game.
  • 8 July The Americas Cup is deeded to the New York Yacht Club as a prize for international races. The most coveted trophy in yacht racing will remain in the United States until 1983.
  • Fall The first American Chess Congress begins in New York City. Twenty-year-old Paul Charles Morphy, a native of New Orleans, wins the competition. He will tour Europe the next two years and be recognized as the best player in the world.


  • 10 Mar. Twenty-five New York baseball clubs meet to form the first amateur league, called the National Association of Base Ball Players.
  • 20 July Fans pay for the first time to see a baseball game. The fifty cents charged at the opening game of the National Association of Base Ball Players pays the cost of preparing the Fashion Race Course on Long Island for baseball. A crowd of fifteen hundred sees New York beat Brooklyn 22-18.
  • 20 Oct. U.S. boxing champion John C. Morrissey knocks out John C. Heenan, unable to answer the bell for the twelfth round of their title bout. Morrissey subsequently retires, and Heenan, claiming a moral victory, is named U.S. champion by default.


  • Massachusetts establishes a 108-acre public garden in Boston.
  • 30 June JuneFrenchman Charles Blondin (Jean FranÇois Gravelet) walks a tightrope across Niagara Falls.
  • 1 July The first intercollegiate baseball game is played in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Amherst College defeats Williams 73-32 in twenty-six innings.


  • U.S. sportsmen begin to wear plus fours, loose sports knickers made four inches longer than ordinary knickerbockers.
  • 17Apr. A world boxing championship match is held between U.S. champion John C. Heenan and British champion Tom Sayers at Farnborough, England. After two and one-half hours the brutal fight is stopped; later, both men are awarded championship belts.


  • With the beginning of the Civil War, the number of New York baseball teams begins to drop, from sixty-two in 1861 to only twenty-eight at the end of the war in 1865.
  • Thaddeus Lowe makes a record balloon voyage from Cincinnati to South Carolina, nine hundred miles in nine hours. He is briefly held as a Union spy. Lincoln later appoints him chief of U.S. Army aeronautics division.


  • 25 Dec. A baseball game staged by the 165th New York Volunteer Infantry draws acrowd of forty thousand.


  • Saratoga Springs, New York, becomes the center of U.S. horse racing with the opening of its flat track.
  • New Yorker James L. Plimpton invents four-wheeled roller skates. Roller-skating will become a fad not only in the United States but also in Europe.
  • Eddie Cuthbert of the Philadelphia Keystones steals the first base in a game with the Brooklyn Atlantics.
  • 10 Feb. Huge crowds flock to the wedding of General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, both thirty-two inches tall. P. T. Barnum had publicized the event heavily.


  • Congress passes a bill at the urging of Frederick Law Olmsted to preserve Californias Yosemite Valley as the first national scenic reserve.
  • Chicago names Lincoln Park, which will grow to encompass more than one thousand acres.
  • A new baseball rule abolishes the practice of awarding an out when a fair ball is caught on the first bounce.
  • Although baseball is still an amateur sport, gambling surrounds the games and star players are often paid surreptitiously. Al Reach, who draws a regular salary for a Philadelphia club, becomes the first openly professional player.
  • The first running of the Travers Stakes is held at the Saratoga racetrack in New York.


  • With the end of the Civil War, soldiers return home. The foundation for the postwar expansion of baseball has been laid during the war as knowledge of the sport spread through both Union and Confederate ranks.


  • The annual convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players draws representatives from more than one hundred clubs.
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is founded in response to various blood sports involving animals.
  • 17 June The New York Athletic Club is founded. The organization will build Americas first cinder track and sponsor national amateur championships in swimming, boxing, wrestling, and track and field. Similar clubs will form in other cities.


  • The annual convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players draws representatives from 237 clubs, including more than one hundred from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. The association officially bars blacks from membership.
  • First running of the 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes in New York for three-year-old thoroughbreds. The winner is Ruthless, with a time of 3:05.
  • Brooklyn pitcher William Arthur Candy Cummings invents the curveball.
  • July The Nationals, an amateur baseball team from Washington, D.C., begin a 3,000-mile barnstorming tour of the country. The club often trounces the opposition, numbering among its victims the Cincinnati Red Stockings (53-10), the Indianapolis Western Club (106-21), and the Saint Louis Union Club (113-26).


  • 11 Nov. The New York Athletic Clubs first open indoor track-and-field competition is held at the Empire Skating Rink.


  • The Cincinnati Red Stockings become the first professional baseball team and achieve astounding success. They travel more than eleven thousand miles, beating almost every prominent club between California and Massachusetts, and appearing before more than two hundred thousand fans. They return to Cincinnati having won sixty-five games and tied one.
  • 15 June Mike McCoole is awarded the victory over Tom Allen in a nine-round fight in Saint Louis when Allen commits a foul.
  • 6 Nov. Rutgers defeats Princeton 6-4 in the first intercollegiate football game. The game is a soccer variant in which twenty-five men play on each side.


  • Massive hunting will reduce the buffalo population from four million to half a million in the next four years.
  • 8 Aug. In the first defense of the Americas Cup, the American Magic defeats the English challenger Cambria in a race held in New York Bay.
  • 14 June After ninety-two games without a loss, the Cinncinati Red Stockings lose 8-7 in eleven innings to the Brooklyn Atlantics at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn.


  • Ten-year-old Goldsmith Maid, a champion harness-race trotter, is bought by Harry N. Smith for $32,000. Instead of breeding her as he intended, Smith will continue to enter her in races. Goldsmith Maid will go undefeated until 1874, winning her owner about $100,000. In the course of her career the mare will win purses totaling more than $360,000.
  • Former Union Army officers found the National Rifle Association.
  • 17 Mar. In a meeting in New York City, representatives often teams agree to form the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league. One of the ten, the Brooklyn Eckfords, will find the ten-dollar entry fee too steep but will later replace the Fort Wayne Kekiongas, who will drop out in August.
  • 4 May In the first game of the professional National Association, the Fort Wayne Kekiongas defeat visiting Cleveland Forest Citys, 2-0. It is the lowest-scoring game in the four-year history of the league.
  • Oct. The American ships Columbia and Sappho win two races each, defeating Englands Livonia, 4-1, in the third Americas Cup race.


  • The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players adds four new teams. Pitchers are allowed to use snap-and-jerk deliveries but must still throw underhand. The Boston franchise, which was plagued by injuries in the initial year of league play, claims the first of four consecutive pennants.
  • The American Association of Oarsmen is organized.
  • 1 Mar. Congress creates the nations first national park, Yellowstone, a two-million-acre reserve in the Wyoming Territory.


  • In a rematch in Saint Louis, boxer Tom Allen defeats Mike McCoole in seven rounds.
  • Parents in Witchita, Kansas, form a baseball club for young ladies.
  • First running of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes race in Baltimore for three-year-old thoroughbreds. The winner is Survivor.


  • The first intercollegiate track-and-field meet is held. Its success leads to the for mation of the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America and the first annual championship games in 1876.
  • Apr. Barnums Hippodrome, a railroad depot remodeled by showman P. T. Barnum, opens at the north end of New Yorks Madison Square Park. In the winter Patrick S. Gilmore will buy and rename the structure Gilmores Garden. It will eventually be known as Madison Square Garden, one of the countrys most famous sporting venues.
  • 14 May Harvard defeats McGill in the Boston Game the first intercollegiate contest that resembles American football. Each team fields eleven men and advance the ball by running with it as well as kicking it.


  • Harvard and Yale play the inaugural game of what will become the nations longest-running football rivalry.
  • President Ulysses S. Grant vetoes a bill that would protect the buffalo from extinction.
  • The last year of play of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which was losing fan support because of the uncontrolled influence of gambling.
  • May The first running of the Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs in Louis ville, with Aristides, a chestnut colt, victorious in the 1.5-mile stakes race. In subsequent years, the length will be shortened to 1.25 miles. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes will later be recognized as the three jewels of the American Triple Crown.


  • Theodore Roosevelt enters Harvard, where he will box, row, and wrestle on interclass teams. As president he will symbolize the nations belief in the character-building value of sports.
  • Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia form the Intercollegiate Football Association to standardize rules. The rules are based on the rugby-style game played at Harvard rather than on the soccerlike game of Yale.
  • A four-oared shell from Columbia University competes in Englands Henley Regatta, inaugurating a long tradition of American participation in the event.
  • Horace H. Lee of Pennsylvania sets a record in the one hundred-yard dash with a time often seconds.
  • The Centennial Exposition is held in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. Its 167 buildings hold some thirty thousand exhibits.
  • New York Citys 840-acre Central Park is completed.
  • English fighter Joe Goss defeats Tom Allen in a twenty-seven-round fight in Kentucky.
  • The trotter Hambletonian dies at age twenty-seven, having sired hundreds of offspring.
  • 2 Feb. Major League Baseball is born. In a suite of the Grand Central Hotel in New York City, Chicago businessman William A. Hulbert proposes the reformation of the National Association into the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs. With Hulberts reforms and solid structure, the National League will become an American institution.
  • 22 Apr. In the first game in National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs history, visiting Boston defeats Philadelphia, 6-5. Jim Orator ORourke makes the first hit; Tom McGinley scores the first run; Ezra Sutton commits the first error.
  • Aug. The U.S. defender Madeleine keeps the Americas Cup, defeating the Canadian challenger Countess OfDufferin, 2-0.


  • The National League roster drops to six teams after the New York and Philadelphia clubs are expelled because of their refusal to make expensive western road trips. The season features the first prearranged schedule; previously, club secretaries were left to arrange the league games.
  • The president of the Louisville club of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, Charles E. Chase, suspends four of his players for life after they are found guilty of throwing games. League president Hulbert sustains the decision.
  • Baseball catchers begin wearing masks and using lightly padded gloves.
  • Swan Boats, designed to evoke Richard Wagners Lohengrin, become a major attraction at Bostons Public Garden.
  • Started by Pennsylvania clergyman Willard Parsons, the Fresh Air Fund brings deprived city children for a visit to his rural community.
  • May The inaugural Westminister Kennel Club dog show, held at Gilmores Garden in New York City, attracts 1,201 entries.

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