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Brown cover with decorative text and etching of people skating and ice-boating on a frozen lake or pondHandbook of Winter Sports cover, 1879. / THF112472


"Within the past decade we have become … a nation of sport-loving people…"

The above quote appeared almost 130 years ago in the small but richly detailed Handbook of Winter Sports. Written by Henry Chadwick, this 1879 handbook provides a fascinating glimpse into the sports that excited and engaged Americans at the time. Sportswriter and promoter Henry Chadwick spent much of his career helping to make baseball America’s “national game.” His ongoing desire to increase Americans’ devotion to “physical exercise and healthful outdoor recreation” is clear in many of the passages of this winter sports handbook.

With the Industrial Revolution cranking up after the Civil War, thousands of Americans flocked from farms and villages to cities for jobs in industry and business. The pressures and routines of the workplace caused many people to begin to view sports as a necessary outlet. Joining an amateur sports club or team provided a comforting feeling of community amidst the growing anonymity in American cities.

Some of the sports described in this handbook may seem a little unusual to us today, but they made perfect sense to Henry Chadwick and his readers back in 1879.

Skating


Blue shoebox with tan label on end and two gold and silver ice skating blades next to it
Early factory-made ice skates, made during the late 1860s by Smith Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. / THF25566


"The great outdoor recreation of the winter season in our northern clime is, undoubtedly, the invigorating and exciting exercise of skating."

Ice skating was America's first national winter sports craze. When New York City's Central Park opened in 1858, it became a fashionable pastime, both for men and for ladies who wanted to “keep up with the times." Soon, all classes and ages of Americans were taking to the ice—on country ponds, in small-town parks, and at indoor rinks.

Tan card with text and etching of man and woman ice skating with child in background
1881 trade card advertising the roller-skating rink in Northampton, Massachusetts. / THF225132

By 1879, roller skating was considered a perfect alternative to ice skating—especially for those times when the ice was too rough or too soft, or when "the keen blasts of the winter's wind are too severe." Roller skating would become a huge craze in the 1880s, when almost every city and town had its rink. Story even has it that the upstairs of the J.R. Jones General Store, now in Greenfield Village, was used for roller skating for a time—probably in the late 1870s or early 1880s—back when the store was at its original location in Waterford, Michigan.

Curling


Large group of people on frozen pond or lake with brooms and curling stones
Match between Scottish and American curlers at Cortlandt Lake, Westchester County, New York, from Harper's Weekly, February 9, 1884. / THF700390

"Curling is a game worthy of the hardy Scots, calling into play … most of the characteristics of manliness…"

In the sport of curling, teams of players slide slightly flattened, round granite stones to a designated spot on the ice. From Scotland, curling spread to Canada—where it took permanent hold. Although this sport showed sure signs of popularity in America in the 1870s, it would never have as passionate a following as it did in Canada.

Ice-Boating


Card with text and image of people ice skating, ice fishing, and ice boating on a frozen lake; also contains text
Ice-boating is part of this idyllic winter scene, from a trade card for the Young & Striker dry goods store in Amsterdam, New York, around 1890. / THF125112

"…for thrilling excitement [ice-boating] surpasses every other [sport] in vogue."

Ice-boating probably originated in the Netherlands, where frozen canals and lakes became speedy highways during the winter months. This sport's early popularity in America centered around the Hudson River, where ice-boating became a mass spectator sport during the 1870s. Simple ice boats evolved into great ice "yachts"—designed for stability and speed.

Football


Page with labeled rectangular diagram of a football field
This is the first known diagram of an American football field, pictured the 1879 Handbook of Winter Sports. / THF231598

"The game of football is called the 'national winter game' in England, because it is played there throughout the winter season."

Americans don't generally think of football as a winter game. Even Chadwick admitted that "in all but the Southern states, it can only be played during a portion of the winter season, when the snow is off the ground." But by 1879, football was showing definite promise as an up-and-coming American sport. So Chadwick seized the opportunity to document its rules and publish the first known diagram of an American football field in this handbook.

Football, which evolved from the English game of rugby, first became popular as a collegiate sport. The rules of play for the American version of football continued to evolve into the 20th century. Professional football would not come of age until the 1920s.

Color illustration of men playing football without protective gear; insets of two men's heads in corners
This 1897 football game shows the rough nature of the sport at the time, predating the use of helmets and padding. / THF117849

The American refinements to English rugby rules included reducing the number of players from 15 to 11; assigning players to specific positions; changing rules for running, kicking, and passing the ball; and replacing the rugby huddles, or “scrummage,” with a clearly defined line of “scrimmage.” As the game became Americanized, it focused more on speed and finesse—with a new emphasis on passing—and away from brute force and roughness.

What's Missing from the 1879 Handbook?


Gold cover with blue text and blue-and-white image of bobsledding
Cover of the 1932 Winter Olympics program in Lake Placid, featuring the exciting bobsled competition. / THF125111

So what about the winter sports we think of today—like basketball, hockey, and skiing?

Basketball was devised at a Y.M.C.A. in 1891 as a way to keep athletes in shape over the winter months. This sport quickly spread to school physical education programs for both boys and girls. It did not go professional until 1946. Skiing was brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants during the late 19th century. Ice hockey came to the United States as an organized sport from Canada during the 1890s. Amateur, youth, and collegiate teams were popular before professional ice hockey gained a national following during the 1920s.

More than any other sports event, the international Winter Olympics (begun in 1924) heightened Americans' interest and enthusiasm for winter sports—especially after the Olympics came to Lake Placid, New York, in 1932.

Then and Now


The pastimes and sports described in the 1879 Handbook laid the foundation for Americans' passion for winter sports. Many winter sports became faster and more competitive. They came to be played by men and women of all ages and provided outlets for people from many different walks of life.

Some winter sports—like football, basketball, and hockey—have become mass spectator sports. However, many others—like sledding, skating, and snowshoeing—still provide opportunities for healthful recreation and, as Chadwick put it back in 1879, "a wonderful power of exhilaration attendant upon breathing the pure oxygen of a winter atmosphere."

You can read the entire handbook in our Digital Collections here.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from the January 2007 entry in our former Pic of the Month series.

football, sports, winter, by Donna R. Braden

THF165548
Ring received by Charlie Sanders when he was enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. THF165545

The Henry Ford has in its collection this commemorative bust and ring that had once been owned and cherished by Charlie Sanders, Detroit Lions tight end. He had received these items when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 4, 2007, along with five other players. 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in Canton, Ohio, in 1963, to commemorate the game and players of professional football. As of 2017, 310 players are enshrined here, elected by a 46-person committee that is mostly made up of members of the media. An Enshrinement Ceremony is held annually in August. Thousands attend this ceremony and millions more watch and listen as the nationally televised event unfolds.

Sanders is one of 19 Lions enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seven of the 19 are African American, including Lem Barney, Barry Sanders, and Dick “Night Train” Lane.

Charlie Alvin Sanders (1946-2015) was born in rural Richlands, North Carolina, where his aunt raised him after the death of his mother when he was only two years old. At age 8, after his father got out of the military, the family moved to Greensboro—a hotbed of racial tension, most famously the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins of 1960.  

He graduated from James B. Dudley High School (Greensboro’s first all-black public school, established in 1929). There he starred in football, baseball, and basketball. His dislike of Southern racial attitudes discouraged him from attending North Carolina’s Wake Forest University; he decided instead to play football at the University of Minnesota. 

The Detroit Lions chose him in the third round of the 1968 NFL Draft. Initially, he wasn’t sure about playing for Detroit after witnessing the civil unrest in that city in 1967, reminding him of the racial tensions in the South when he was growing up. He almost went to Toronto to play hockey, but the Lions offered him a contract he decided to accept. 

Sanders has been considered the finest tight end in Detroit Lions history. He played for the Lions from 1968 to 1977, totaling 336 career receptions (a Lions record that would hold for 20 seasons) for 4,817 yards and 31 touchdowns. He was also known as a superior blocker.    

The tight end was a unique offensive position that, depending upon the coach’s strategy, can assist with blocking for the running back or quarterback as well as receive passes. Greater use of the tight end as a receiver started in the 1960s. Sanders proved to be the Lions’ “secret weapon” in the passing game during a period when the right end was primarily a blocker. He was one of the first tight ends who brought experience in both college football and basketball, and he had great leaping ability, big hands, strength, speed and elusiveness—traits not common for tight ends of his era. Hall of Fame Cornerback Lem Barney claimed, “He made some acrobatic catches. I’m telling you, one-legged, one arm in the air, floating through the air almost like a Superman. If you threw it to him he was going to find a way to catch it.”   

Sanders grew up in an era that marked the transition between legally upheld segregation in the South and increasingly prominent roles of African Americans in all aspects of sports—on the playing field, in media, and as decision-makers in coaching and management. He came of age at a time when the black athlete in Detroit aspired to a more activist role in social and business matters. He spent much time in the company of Lions teammates Lem Barney and Mel Farr and Pistons star Dave Bing.  Referring to themselves as “The Boardroom,” they frequently conducted meetings in which they discussed the importance of black athletes being defined by more than simply their on-field exploits.  

Sanders’ look defined African American players of the 1970s. As writer Drew Sharp remarked, “He wore the huge Afro. His helmet couldn’t cover it all. It looked cool. It looked defiant. And, quite frankly, it was the only motive for any kids in my northwest Detroit neighborhood to buy a Lions helmet at that time because they wanted their Afros sticking out from the back.” He also sported a heavy Fu Manchu mustache at the time.

THF165543
Bust received by Charlie Sanders when he was enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. THF165545

During his 10 years playing for the Lions, he was chosen seven times for the Pro Bowl (NFL’s All-Star game) from 1968 to 1971 and 1974 to 1976—more than any other Hall of Fame Tight End. He was also chosen for NFL’s All-Pro team in 1970 and 1971 (made up of players voted the best in their position during those two years) and for the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team. In 2008, he was chosen as a member of the Lions’ 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. 

During an exhibition game in 1976, Sanders injured his right knee, ending his career. After retirement, Sanders served as a color analyst for Lions radio broadcasts (1983-1988), worked with the team as an assistant coach in charge of wide receivers (1989-1996 – mentoring players who would themselves go on to earn a place in the Lions’ record book), returned to radio broadcasting in 1997, then joined the Lions’ front office as a scout. He became the team’s assistant director of pro personnel in 2000, holding that role until his death on July 2, 2015. 

Sanders had also worked in the team’s community relations department and did much charitable work, serving as a spokesman for the United Way and The March of Dimes. He created The Charlie Sanders Foundation in 2007, providing scholarships for high school students in Michigan and North Carolina, and began the “Have a Heart Save a Life” program within the foundation. 

Sanders spent 43 years with the Detroit Lions over parts of five decades, the longest tenure of anyone outside the Ford family. Sports blogger “Big Al” Beaton wrote about him, “…as a kid growing up in the 70’s, my favorite Lion was Charlie Sanders….We all wanted to emulate Charlie Sanders. In my mind Sanders was the best tight end I’ve ever seen play.”

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

21st century, 20th century, sports, Michigan, football, Detroit, by Donna R. Braden, African American history

 

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions.

Our sign replica has welcomed guests to Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past fall.

If you've visited Ford Field to see a Detroit Lions game, chances are you've see a neon sign that now hangs over the Pro Shop. And if you've visited Henry Ford Museum to explore Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, chances are you've seen that same sign here, this time a replica that looks like a lot like the original.

We had a chance to talk with our partners over at the Detroit Lions to learn a little bit more about this familiar sign.

The sign was created in 1963 when Mr. William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the club and was hung in the Detroit Lions Headquarters. The logo on the sign came from a patch that was worn on the team’s blue blazers that they would wear when travelling.

The Lions organization, along with the neon Lions sign, then moved to the Silverdome in 1975.

When the organization moved to Ford Field in 2002, the sign was left at the Silverdome. Ford Field Director of Sports Events Danny Jaroshewich brought it to Lions President Tom Lewand’s attention that the sign was left and suggested that it be brought to the new offices at Ford Field. The sign was sent to be refurbished before being placed above the Pro Shop, where it is still currently hung.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford

lighting, sports, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum, football, Detroit, by Lish Dorset

barry-sanders-visits-thf

During the launch of Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders toured the exhibit and received a special tour of the exhibit's highlights. Take a look at Barry's visit and hear what he has to say about this exhibit, on display at Henry Ford Museum through January 4, 2015.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

by Lish Dorset, sports, African American history, events, Michigan, Detroit, football

Football Season

November 6, 2014 Archive Insight

Dowagiac, Michigan High School football team, 1896  (THF226108)

After a sultry summer, all of a sudden the air turns chilly and crisp.  The sunlight is somehow brighter and more intense.  The days get shorter.  The leaves start turning their riotous colors. When I was growing up, this was the time my brothers would stash away their baseball gloves and start tossing around the football.

Football Season had arrived.

American football got its start as a college sport.  In fact, virtually all the rules, playing strategies, player equipment, and methods of scoring that today we consider part of American football evolved during its early college years.

American football probably originated in England and it came to this country in two separate versions.  The first version, which involved more kicking, eventually became the game we know as soccer.  The second version, which involved more carrying and running with the ball, was akin to the British game of rugby.  Continue Reading

20th century, 19th century, sports, football, by Donna R. Braden

football_64.167.6.45.1

Earlier this week we shared another set of items that were recently digitized for our online collections: football artifacts to supplement our latest traveling exhibit, Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of those items is Edsel Ford’s 1934 season pass to home games of the Detroit Lions, which is actually on display inside the exhibit. In the picture of the pass you'll see that "Cancelled" is written in one of the top corners. After we shared the photo on Twitter yesterday Dave Birkett sent us this Tweet:

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) October 1, 2014

 

The explanation wasn't included in the online narrative for the pass and actually had several of us scratching our own heads - why was the pass cancelled?  Thanks to Brian Wilson, Digital Processing Archivist at The Henry Ford, we found the answer. Here's Brian's report as he took a trip to our archives. - Lish Dorset Social Media Manager, The Henry Ford. Continue Reading

Ford family, sports, research, Michigan, football, Edsel Ford, Detroit, by Lish Dorset, by Brian Wilson

football_64.167.6.45.1

On Friday, a new traveling exhibition will open at The Henry Ford—Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Hall of Fame.  As an online supplement to the exhibit, we have digitized selections from our collections related to football, including photos of football playing students from the Edison Institute Schools as well as Henry Ford Trade School; Mercury advertising photographs with a football theme; and assorted other items.  One hidden gem that we uncovered during this project is Edsel Ford’s 1934 season pass to home games of the Detroit Lions, which will be on display along with the exhibition.  Check out all of our digitized football collections in our Digital Collections, then come visit Gridiron Glory in Henry Ford Museum.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, digital collections, football, sports, by Ellice Engdahl