Listening to Boxing on the Radio During the Depression Years

I did not expect to like to movie “Cinderella Man,” but had heard about James J. Braddock through family letters to Delbert and Donald Wilson who had joined in the Navy during the Depression.

This film shows as well as anything I’ve seen what the mind-set was of those needy families embarrassed by being “on the dole.”

During the 1930s, the Wilson family of Dexter, Iowa, would listen to “the fights” on the radio, Leora Wilson working at her mending while she listened.

James J. Braddock, with 24 losses, won one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing championship history. He defeated Max Baer on June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, for the world title in a unanimous decision after a grueling 15 rounds.

The next day, Leora wrote her Navy boys, “Expect you may have heard the Braddock and Baer fight. I’m glad Braddock won–he needs the money for his family.”

June 19, 1936, at the start of their legendary boxing rivalry, German former world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling gives Joe Louis his first defeat, with a twelve-round knockout.

June 21, 1937, Joe Louis became heavyweight champion of the world, knocking out James J. Braddock in round eight. The new champion then says he won’t consider himself a champion until he beats Max Schmeling in a rematch.

June 22, 1938, in the second fight of their famous rivalry, Joe Louis retained the world heavyweight title with a first-round knockout of former world champion Max Schmeling.

I imagine all or most of the Wilsons of Dexter scooted close their radio set to listen to these fights. Entertainment during the Great Depression.

Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression



    • They listened to all sorts of ballgames, but they would have had to be inside during the summer for the heavyweight championships! That surprised me.

  1. Although I’m not a boxing fan, when I was teaching junior high history and we studied the Depression era, I played part of the broadcast of the Louis-Schmeling bout for the students. Other old-time radio broadcasts that I played for them included many of those my father told of listening to during the Depression, including Lum and Abner, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and many others. Such programs were well written and helped kids develop their imaginations because there was no ready-made visual for them as TV and movies do for them today.

    • I bet you’re right! I was just thinking about you, and hoping you’ve recorded more stories for Our American Stories. Loved the one about your daughter’s wedding.

  2. Don’t know much about boxing but enjoyed this posting. I can picture the family, all families huddled ’round the radios l listening 🙂

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