First Intercollegiate Athletic Event: 1852 Harvard-Yale Boat Race
In an exciting two-mile rowing race on the waters of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee on Aug. 3, 1852, Harvard’s Oneida won the first Harvard-Yale Boat Race, beginning a regatta rivalry that continues to this day. That 1852 race was the first intercollegiate athletic competition between American colleges. It was witnessed by a large crowd including General Franklin Pierce, who was elected the United States’ 14th president later that year. Pierce presented Harvard with the prized trophy: a pair of black walnut oars inscribed with silver. Today, the regatta is held annually on the Thames River, New London, Connecticut.
An account of the inaugural boat race was published by the Boston Daily Atlas (Boston, Massachusetts) on Aug. 5, 1852:
The Regatta at Lake Winnipesaukee
A letter from Centre Harbor to the Journal, gives some account of the regatta at Lake Winnipesaukee on the 3d inst., between the boat clubs of Harvard and Yale Colleges. There was a large crowd present to witness the proceedings. Among the company present were Gen. Franklin Pierce and John S. Thrasher. The following boats entered for the race:
Undine (Yale). Uniform white and blue. Julius Catlin, Captain; George W. Smalley, Mate; S. W. Knevals, Theodore Weston, James M. Whiton, Jr., Wm. V. Bartlett, S. H. Tobey, B. K. Phelps, Wm. M. Hudson.
Shawmut (Yale). Uniform white and red. R. Waite, Captain; James Hamilton, Mate; Wm. L. Hinman, A. E. Skelding, J. Warren, E. Harland, J. R. Goodrich, Wm. T. Baxter, W. C. Brewster, J. S. French, A. E. Kent.
Atalanta (from New York, but manned by Students of Yale). Uniform blue and white. W. W. Winthrop, Captain; N. W. T. Root, Mate; D. D. Huntington, A. P. Rockwell, G. A. Kittredge, W. C. Whittemore, M. B. Ewing, C. G. Childs.
This boat is a four-oared regular racing boat, from New York, and was withdrawn from competition for the prizes, it being conceded that the match would not be a fair one.
Oneida (Harvard). Uniform red, blue and white. J. M. Brown, Captain; C. F. Livermore, Mate; C. H. Hurd, Sidney Willard, C. J. Paine, W. H. Cunningham, J. W. Hutchins, P. P. Ellis, H. O. Whittemore, C. A. Miles, John Dwight, Thomas J. Curtis.
The following gentlemen were appointed Judges: Julius Catlin of Hartford, N. B. Baker of Concord, N. A. M. Dudley of New York, S. Hatch Quincy of Rumney, A. Herbert Bellows, Concord.
This forenoon, there was a preliminary trial, or scrub race, the race ground being down the bay, a distance of perhaps a mile and a half. The boats came in in the following order:
1. Oneida (two lengths ahead)
2. Shawmut (one and a half lengths)
3. Undine (three lengths)
The time made by the Oneida was seven minutes and a half.
The grand race for the first prize, a pair of black walnut oars, came off after dinner in the afternoon. The boats were towed to the stake boat, which was stationed about two miles down the bay. The crews were to row back to the wharf. The following boats were entered for the race: Shawmut (of Yale), Captain Waite; Undine (of Yale), Captain Catlin; Oneida (of Harvard), Captain Brown.
The boats started handsomely. The Oneida soon shot ahead and maintained her position through the race. The boats came in as follows:
(1) Oneida four lengths ahead of (2) Shawmut which was four lengths ahead of (3) Undine. The Oneida was again declared the victor. The time was made in ten minutes, against a head wind. The race, it will be seen, was very closely contested, and the Yale Clubs, although vanquished, acquitted themselves nobly. It is proper to remark that the Oneida and Shawmut were built upon very nearly the same model. The superiority of the Oneida was unquestionably due to the superior skill and strength of her crew, who were generally heavier men than the crews of the other boats.
The race for the second prize, the black walnut boat hook, will come off at Wolfborough on Thursday.
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