For this week’s Smithsonian Snapshot, we take a look at the sport of boxing. Worn in his first historic bout with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936, Joe Louis’ boxing gloves represent a very special chapter in American sports and social history.
While the 1936 match was a heartbreaking loss for Louis, the two boxers met again in 1938 in Yankee Stadium. After that match, Louis was declared the victor in what is considered one of the greatest sporting moments of the 20th century. The historic win cemented Louis’ place in the country’s collective memory, seen as a symbolic contest of American ideals versus those of the Nazis. By easily defeating Schmeling in the first round, Louis became a national hero.
This object is one of more than 1,000 artifacts, works of art and specimens that are on view at Smithsonian Affiliates across the country, and one of 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is on public display at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh through October 2011 in the exhibition “America’s Best Weekly: A Century of the Pittsburgh Courier.”