On January 16, 1896, Henry F. Kallenberg, an instructor of physical education at the University of Iowa, 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.
“Rose Wilder Lane.” Autobiographical sketch; Missouri, 1938-39. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
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 to 1940 to find more recollections of the game. After retrieving a list of hits, scroll down to any item and click on the View Results link to jump to the segment of the piece pertaining to basketball.
- Find 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 Horydczak Collection.
- Learn more about the beginnings of basketball and its rise in popularity through newspaper coverage found in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Start with the special presentation Basketball: Topics in Chronicling America.
- Listen to radio interviews of some iconic figures from the sport of basketball in the Library’s Sports Byline collection.
- Find more information about sports in American history by searching Today in History 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.