On January 16, 1896, Henry F. Kallenberg, an instructor of physical education at the University of Iowa External, welcomed Amos Alonzo Stagg, athletic director at the recently founded University of Chicago, to Iowa City for an experimental game in a new sport. The contest, refereed by Kallenberg, was the first unofficial college basketball game played with five players on each side. The University of Chicago won by a score of 15 to 12.
Kallenberg had met Stagg at the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the two of them were students in 1890. In December 1891, Canadian-born James Naismith, director of physical education at the school, invented the game of basketball.
Initially, players passed or batted (with open hands) a soccer ball up and down a court of unspecified dimensions. Points were earned by landing the ball in a peach basket. Iron hoops and a hammock-style basket were introduced in 1893. Another decade passed, however, before the innovation of open-ended nets put an end to the practice of manually retrieving the ball from the basket each time a goal was scored.
I’m a plump, Middle-Western, Middle-class, middle-aged woman, with white hair and simple tastes…I am mad about Kansas skies, Cedar Rapids by night, Iowa City any time, Miami Beach, San Francisco, and all American boys about fifteen years old playing basketball.
For many years the sport remained closely identified with the Y.M.C.A., even as its popularity as a college sport for men and women steadily increased. It acquired an even greater following with the introduction, in 1963, of nationally televised broadcasts of the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. By the 1980s, basketball had gained an equal footing with baseball and football among American sports fans.
Women’s college basketball, introduced by Senda Berenson at Smith College in 1892, has become increasingly popular since the abolition in 1971 of rules limiting players’ mobility to half-court.
- Search on basketball in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 to find more recollections of the game. After retrieving a list of hits, go to any item and use the BEST MATCH link in the page header to jump to the segment of the piece pertaining to basketball.
- History of the American West, 1860-1920 External contains images of both men and women basketball players. Search on the term basketball to see, for example, players from the following Colorado high schools: Keota, Aspen, West, and Ignacio (the latter a part of the Southern Ute Agency).
- A similar search in The South Texas Border, 1900-1920: Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection External will reveal a number of basketball images from that state, including the 1926 Brownsville, Texas, Junior High School girls’ basketball team.
- Find yet more photographs of basketball players. Search across all the photographic collections on basketball. Of particular interest are Theodor Horydczak’s images of basketball players at Charlotte Hall Military Academy in Maryland found in the collection, Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959.
- Find more information about sports in American history by searching the Today in History Archive on sport or on particular sports. Subjects featured include football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, tennis star Althea Gibson, legendary pitcher Cy Young, the first game of the modern World Series, and baseball great Jackie Robinson.