view of case with Babe Ruth's uniform pants

The Ballyhoo Years

Probably no single decade has produced a list of heroes and legends like the 1920s. It was a time of great achievements by lone individuals who captured the hearts of Americans – rugged characters like Charles Lindbergh who flew solo across the Atlantic or Gertrude Ederle who swam the English Channel. The headlines screamed the latest conquests of pioneers as they soared to new heights, explored unknown territory, and with each accomplishment attaining what previous generations only dreamed of. Land speed records were established almost weekly while fanatical interest in aviation made heroes of Amelia Earhart, Richard Byrd and Lucky Lindy. To this day the largest ticker tape parade in New York rained down on Lindbergh, and Ederle’s parade remains the biggest ever staged for a woman. Meanwhile, innovations by Igor Sikorsky transformed aviation, converting the romantic aeroplane into the utilitarian, but invaluable, helicopter.

Hero worship spilled over into sports as Americans devoured the latest box scores, racing times and clashes in college football. Newspapers expanded their sports pages to meet the public’s demand. Attendance at college football games more than doubled during the decade, 55 of the country’s 70 concrete stadiums, including the Big House at The University of Michigan, were built after 1920, and the sport grew into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Bobby Jones made golf so popular that courses and country clubs sprang up around the country. Jack Dempsey’s boxing match in 1921 produced sports’ first million dollar gate. Records set by Babe Ruth, Man O’ War, Bill Tilden, and Johnny Weissmuller lasted for decades.

The sports headlines still echo in our nation’s memory: Ruth hits 60 homeruns, the long count in the Dempsey-Tunney fight, Red Grange scores four touchdowns in 12 minutes against Michigan, Bobby Jones completes golf’s Grand Slam, Weissmuller wins a record five Olympic medals in swimming, Tilden wins six straight national tennis titles, and Man O’ War crosses the finish line first in 20 of 21 races.

view of case with Admiral Byrd's flight suit

view of case containing rope from Dempsey fight

Ballyhoo spilled over to fads in the Twenties. Mah-Jongg, a tile game imported from China, was all the rage for the early 1920s – 1.6 million sets of tiles were sold and became more popular than bridge. The influence of China gave way to Egypt with the discovery of King Tut, and the fad for Egyptian style décor took over. Marathon dancing was followed by flagpole sitting inspired by stuntman “Shipwreck” Kelly. Soon flagpoles were erected in backyards as people were swept up with this uncomfortable craze. And publishers Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster hit on the biggest infatuation of the decade when they printed crossword puzzle books that became instant best sellers. Soon dictionaries and Roget’s Thesaurus became best sellers themselves as people looked for clues to solve puzzles while nearly anyone you met “could tell you the name of the Egyptian sun god or provide you with the two letter word which meant a printer’s measure.”