Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt shows Irish boys taking a break from a game called hurling. Well, we don’t have hurling here in America (at least, not as a sport!) so I’m drawing on American sports to provide us with our image for the week.

Click to enlarge


Here we have a truly American sport that was invented by James Naismith in 1891. Basketball was invented as a distraction for the YMCA in Springfield, MA to keep energetic students occupied during the winter. It was also designed to be a strategic game, not a physical one. The only way to score a goal was to carefully lob a ball into a basket suspended over the players’ heads. Players were not allowed to bounce the ball, but instead were to move the ball down the court by passing it to one another. The original baskets were in fact, baskets: peach baskets, to be exact. The first basketball game was played in December 1891 as a nine-on-nine game and ended with a score of 1-0.

The photo above was advertised as a basketball team in 1890, but since basketball was not invented until ’91, we now know that date to be wrong. The team was G. H. S. and it was suggested the team was from the Chicago area. That makes it likely this is Geneva High School, Geneva, IL – a school that dates back to 1876. The photographer is listed in the lower right corner as Northup. The team has six players and I find it interesting that they have padded knickers. Being as the game was invented to be nonphysical, I don’t really know why padding would have been necessary. While you can see the ball they used, apparently this style of ball wasn’t the standard until the 1950s. Prior to that time, soccer balls could be used where no basketball was available. My best guess is that the photo is from 1895-1905, based on the studio props. By that timeframe, basketball was wildly popular in high schools and colleges across America. The photo itself is rather large, about 8.5″x10.5″ matted to 11.5″x14″.

Modern basketball of course is fraught with injuries, the players are incredibly strong and not at all scrawny like those shown above. Scores for professional teams routinely get into the 100s. A lot has changed in the 111 years since the sport was invented, but basketball continues to be an exciting and fast-paced game enjoyed by many.

Check back later for some 19th century baseball teams.

For more Sepia sports, click over to Sepia Saturday to see what other participants have kicked up.

Go for the goal!

5 thoughts on “Vintage sports

  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    Lot of research! Good job.


  2. usermattw says:

    Great photo and research! I didn’t know anything about the origins of basketball. Interesting that the boys are wearing pinkie rings. I wonder if that’s some sort of team thing. I wonder if this photo isn’t supposed to represent a specific team sport so much as it is the athletics at that school in general. For instance, the quilted pants seem like they might be for playing football, although they aren’t otherwise dressed for that. And although that looks like a basketball, it might be a vintage medicine ball, used for general exercise rather than a specific sport.


  3. Jana Last says:

    Interesting history of basketball. It’s really has changed over the years!


  4. James Mundie says:

    Regarding your reference to the last Sepia Saturday image – actually, hurling does exist in America, too. It’s been here as long as Irish immigrants have been arriving on these shores, There are two “county boards” of the Gaelic Athletic Association on this continent (North America and New York) that are considered equal with the boards in Ireland, despite covering a much larger territory.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      Thanks for the info! I didn’t know but now I will certainly have to learn more. :-)


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