Stories from PA History
Story Details
Pennsylvania Sports
Despite Quaker opposition to "riotous sports", Pennsylvanians were quick to organize and excel in competitive tests of athletic prowess and to engage in a broad range of physical activities. Home to the nation's oldest and largest track and field event, the Commonwealth is also the birthplace of professional football.

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Bring this subject into focus through the following chapters. These stories take exploration of the main story further by providing more detail for you to learn and explore.

Overview: Pennsylvania Sports
Chapter 1: The Quest for Records and Titles
Chapter 2: Recreational Sports and Leisure
Chapter 3: Pennsylvania Football

Historical Markers In the Story
marker icon Bedford Springs (Bedford) marker icon Bob Hoffman (York)
marker icon First State Game Lands (Elk) marker icon Foxburg Golf Course (Clarion)
marker icon Homestead Library Athletic Club Swim Team (Allegheny) marker icon Radio Station KDKA (Allegheny)
marker icon Samuel Phillippe (Northampton) marker icon Wayne Natatorium (Delaware)
marker icon Wissahickon Boys Club (Philadelphia) marker icon Wissahickon Inn (Philadelphia)

Lesson Plans for this Story
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Story Bibliography

Original Documents
icon full text The United Bowmen celebrate their anniversary with an archery contest, Philadelphia, PA, 1837
icon full text The Phelan vs. Benjamin billiard championship match, Philadelphia, PA, 1858

1716 Yearly Meeting urges members not to participate in horseback or foot racing, and thus avoid the temptation to gambling.
1779 Pennsylvania Legislature passes a law against frivolous activities.
1800 Crews from the University of Pennsylvania begin to compete in boat races on the Schuylkill River.
1817 The state legislature forbids racing on Philadelphia's public roads to protect public safety.
1820 Pennsylvania legislature bans horse racing throughout the state. The law is widely ignored, especially by agricultural societies, whose annual fairs stage races under the guise of improving the breeding of horses.
1828 Brothers Titian Ramsey and Franklin Peale form the United Bowmen of Philadelphia, the nation's first society of archers.
1830 - 1839 English immigrants bring cricket to Philadelphia.
1830 Joshua Newsam walks 1,000 miles in eighteen days on the grounds of Labyrinth Garden in Philadelphia.
1835 Two eight-oared barges compete in the first formal race on the Schuylkill River.
1845 Ten young Philadelphians form the University Barge Club on the Schuylkill River, the first rowing club.
1850 - 1859 Pittsburgh emerges as a center of amateur and professional rowing competitions.
1854 Rotch Wister helps organize the elite Philadelphia Cricket Club.
1857 Philadelphian Domick Bradley becomes the state's first heavyweight boxing champion when he beats Baltimore's Sam Rankin in the 157th round of a bare-knuckle bout.
1858 Michael Phelan wins $1,000 when he defeats Ralph Benjamin of Philadelphia in the first recorded billiard match in the United States.
1870 - 1879 Rowing boom fuels professional races across the eastern United States.
1870 A one-mile race of female rowers in Pittsburgh attracts a crowd of more than 8,000 spectators and offers a $2,000 prize purse.
1872 The Schuylkill Navy sponsors the first all-amateur regatta to foster amateurism.
1875 The Pottstown Trotting Park becomes the third two-mile racing track in the Commonwealth. Point Breeze near Philadelphia and a track at Harrisburg were the other two.
1876 Penn fields the state's first collegiate football team.
1882 Organization of the Cricket Association of the United States, founded and based in Philadelphia.
1887 Opening of the Foxburg Golf Course, today the nation's oldest course in continuous use.
1890 - 1899 Bicycle fad sweeps across the nation.
1892 Professional football is born when the Allegheny Athletic Association pays Yale star Pudge Heffelfinger $500 to play against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club team.
1894 Pittsburgh's George Banker becomes the first American to win the Grand Prix de Paris and Austrian Derby cycling events.
1895 Debut of both the Penn Relays and Devon Horse Show.
1898 The Beadling Soccer Club, one of the oldest in the United States, is founded near Pittsburgh, PA.
1899 Pop Warner begins coaching football at the Carlisle Indian School.
1900 The Philadelphia Vesper Club's eight-oared rowing team, and University of Pennsylvania track-and-field stars Irving K. Baxter and J. W. B. Tewksbury win gold medals at the 1900 Olympics. Tewksbury brings home five medals in sprints and hurdles.
1901 Swarthmore wins the national lacrosse championship. It will repeat in 1904 and 1905.
1904 Organization of the Philadelphia Sportswriters" Association, the state's first.
1904 The Pittsburgh Southside Basketball Team compiles the first perfect season in professional basketball, with a 20-0 record.
1906 Haverford College wins the first intercollegiate league soccer game in American history, beating Harvard 1-0.
1909 Pittsburgh hosts the first of two national prizefights, as middleweight Stanley Ketchell defends his crown at the Duquesne Gardens. Later that year heavyweight champion Jack Johnson fights a six-round no-decision bout against Tony Ross of New Castle, PA.
1910 The McKeesport Tubers of the Central Basketball League invent the first glass backboard.
1911 The first major auto races in Pennsylvania take place in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Philadelphia's Erwin Bergdoll wins the largest class by averaging 60.8 miles per hour over the 202.5 mile race.
1912 Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indian School becomes an international sensation by running, jumping, and throwing his way to victory in the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
1913 The Pennsylvania legislature passes the Resident Hunter's License Law to provide the Commonwealth money to purchase and maintain its public game preserves, protect endangered wildlife, and restore species native to the state.
1920 Philadelphia's John B. Kelly Sr. wins the gold medal in single skulls at the 1920 Olympics. The winner of 126 consecutive races, Kelly would go on to become the greatest of Pennsylvania's celebrated rowers.
1920 Germantown's Bill Tilden wins the first of six straight U. S. tennis championships, and quickly becomes one of the decade's greatest sports heroes.
1921 Washington and Jefferson College plays for the national intercollegiate championship against the University of California's Golden Bears in the Rose Bowl. Using only eleven players, W & J held California to only two first downs, but neither team could put any points on the scoreboard.
1921 KDKA announcer Harold Arlin gives play-by-play of the Pirates defeat of the Phillies in the first radio broadcast of a sporting event.
1922 - 1926 The Pittsburgh Central YMCA wins five straight YMCA national championships in volleyball.
1926 More than 125,000 watch Gene Tunney upset heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey at the Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia. More than thirty million people across the United States and abroad listen to fight over a shortwave hookup. The live audience was at the time by far the largest in sports history.
1929 Philadelphia's Ora Washington becomes the first African-American woman to win the American Tennis Association's national crown. She will retain it through 1936.
1930 Hammond Fisher debuts his Joe Palooka comic strip, basing his hero and many characters on local personalities from his hometown of Wilkes-Barre.
1932 Swimmers from the Homestead Library win silver medals at the 1932 Olympics.
1933 The Philadelphia Eagles, under owner Bert Bell, join the National Football League
1933 The Pennsylvania Legislature repeals its Sunday blue laws, opening the way for Sunday professional sports events.
1936 The victories of the American weightlifting team at the Berlin Olympics convince their coach, Bob Hoffman, to devote all of his energies to the promotion of weightlifting and manufacture of barbells by his York Barbell Company.
1940 - 1941 Five western Pennsylvania boxers–Billy Conn, Billy Soose, Fritzic Zivic, Sammy Angott, and Jakie Wilson–hold world championship titles in boxing.
1946 Eagles founder Bert Bell is named the NFL's second commissioner. He rules the game for the next thirteen years.
1948 The Philadelphia Eagles win first of two consecutive NFL championships.
1959 Pennsylvania lifts its 139-year ban on Thoroughbred racing.
1960 The Philadelphia Eagles win the NFL championship.
1962 Philadelphia Warriors center Wilt Chamberlain becomes the only man in NBA history to score 100 points in a professional basketball game.
1964 Philadelphia's Vesper Boat Club, the first non-collegiate eight to represent the United States since 1904, wins the Olympic gold medal; Philadelphia's Joe Frazier wins Olympic gold medal in heavyweight boxing.
1967 Philadelphia 76ers win NBA championship.
1972 The Educational Amendments Act Title IX requires that schools give girls equal access to school sports programs.
1974 The Philadelphia Flyers win first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.
1975 - 1975 The Pittsburgh Steelers win the first of two consecutive Super Bowls. They would repeat the back-to-back feat in 1979 and 1980.
1976 1976: University of Pittsburgh crowned NCAA champions in college football.
1980 Philadelphia Phillies win their first World Series in franchise history
1982 Penn State named national champion in college football. They would be crowned again in 1986.
1983 The Philadelphia 76ers win NBA championship.
1985 Villanova upsets heavily favored Georgetown to win NCAA basketball championship.
1986 Penn State crowned national champion in college football.
1991 The Pittsburgh Penguins win first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.
2004 Smarty Jones wins Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and barely becomes being the first horse since 1978 to win racing's Triple Crown.
2005 The Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl.
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