Collection on Sports, 1822 – 1997

Extent: 2 boxes
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on Sports contains materials related to New York City’s sports clubs, professional and college sports teams, and sports culture between the years of 1822 and 1997.

Historical Note
Organized and leisure athletics have long been an essential part of New York City. The early Dutch settlers enjoyed informal sports, such as lawn bowling, played in modern day aptly named Bowling Green Park. In the early nineteenth century sports were largely a pastime of the upper socioeconomic classes, who enjoyed sailing and thoroughbred horseracing. Sporting associations and clubs became more popular during the mid-nineteenth century, and by 1870 clubs for 21 sports existed in New York City. Bicycling was particularly popular at the turn of the twentieth century, and by 1899 there were 53 bicycle clubs in the city. These clubs exposed New Yorkers to a greater variety of sporting activities, but also served social purposes. Clubs were often developed around ethnic, racial, class and even occupational lines.

Professional sports gained in popularity with the creation of athletic venues, such as Madison Square Garden in Midtown and the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. America’s national pastime, baseball, has its roots at the Polo Grounds. The city’s first baseball club, the Knickerbockers, was formed in 1845 and by 1860 baseball had become a professional sport. In 1880 the city’s first professional team, the Metropolitans, played at the Polo Grounds until 1885, and then were revived as the New York Mets in 1962 to play their first two seasons at the Polo Grounds. For a period of 50 years, in the first half of the 20th century, the city was home to three professional teams: the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants, before the Giants and Dodgers relocated to the west coast. College football became popular in New York City in the early and mid-twentieth century. Games between non-New York teams were staged in the city and drew large crowds, such as the Army vs. Navy and Army vs. Notre Dame matches. The New York Giants (later a football team, as well) and Jets (originally the Titans of New York) played their first games at the Polo Grounds before re-locating to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, respectively, and eventually to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

 Scope and Content
The Museum of the City of New York’s Collection on Sports consists of a variety of materials spanning from 1822 to 1997 and relating to New York City’s sports clubs, professional and college teams, and athletic culture. The collection illustrates the varying trends in sport popularity, the locales in which sports were played, and teams that are and were native to New York City. The main formats of material in the collection are schedules, programs, yearbooks, tickets and two-dimensional sports memorabilia such as souvenir MetroCards and advertising materials.

The collection includes material related to aviation, baseball, basketball, billiards, boxing, cycling, football, gymnastics, horseracing, ice hockey, jogging, sailing and tennis. The majority of the objects pertain to baseball, football, and horseracing. The baseball materials include tickets from the 1912 World Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and approximately 200 tickets from the Mets’ last season at the Polo Grounds (1963). A highlight of the horseracing materials is an agreement setting the terms and reward for one of the most celebrated horseraces in history between American Eclipse and Sir Henry. The race took place at the Union Course in in Queens in 1833, and drew nearly 50,000 spectators including Andrew Jackson and Aaron Burr.

The collection also contains one scrapbook featuring boxers’s portraits, biographies, caricatures, and accounts of fights clipped from magazines and newspapers in 1884 and 1885. An alphabetical index in the front of the book references page number by the fighters’ names, match-ups, or article title. The majority of events covered by the scrapbook occurred in New York City, Philadelphia or Boston. Many of the clippings were originally published in New York publications, though not all sources are identified. Highlights include a color print from the New York Illustrated Times of the 1849 fight between Tom Hyer and Yankee Sullivan for a reward of $10,000; an illustration and description of the one-armed boxers Dalton and Watts; and illustrations depicting the 1860 prize fight between John Heenan and Tom Sayers for the World Championship. The scrapbook also includes a small selection of articles on college football, such as the 1884 rules and regulations of the game, and an 1884 article from the NY Mail & Express stating, “football declared to be Quite Safe, Healthful and Pleasant”.

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on Sports.

Related Collections
Collection on Clubs, Societies, and AssociationsCollection on Education and Religion

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.