As the world celebrates the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro—where more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries will compete in 41 sports—we want to share with you some of the Olympics-related items in our Library collections. We start with a fairly recent item and work our way back through time.
Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984
Los Angeles hosted its second Olympics in 1984 (the first was in 1932). An Olympic torch—part of The Huntington’s Otis Chandler archive—was a gift to Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980. It is a replica of the torch used by Rafer Johnson, the 1960 decathlon gold medalist, to light the Olympic cauldron in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 28, 1984.
Commemorative Buckle, 1936
This buckle belonged to Harry Meiggs Wolter (1884–1970), who was a professional baseball player and later the Stanford University baseball coach for 26 seasons. In 1936, he coached the U.S. baseball team in a demonstration game in Berlin at the Games of the XI Olympiad. The Americans played against themselves, splitting into two squads, the “World Champions” and the “U.S. Olympics.” Baseball did not become an official Olympic sport until 1992; it was cut from the 2012 games and has not returned this year.
Memorial album of the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936
In this memory book from the XI Olympiad, Wolter collected the autographs of other athletes, including four-time track and field gold medalist Jesse Owens. Owens’ achievements are particularly notable for having dashed Nazi hopes that the Games would highlight Aryan superiority.
Official Pictorial Souvenir, Games of the X Olympiad, 1932
In 1932, Los Angeles hosted its first Olympics. The Official Pictorial Souvenir highlights not only the sports competitions, but also the historic, natural, and cultural attractions of California.
Report of the American Olympic Committee, VII Olympiad, 1920
The 1920 games featured the first American women’s swim team, which dominated its events—sweeping gold, silver, and bronze in both distance events and winning gold in the team relay, all in world-record time.
As the host of two Olympic Games, Los Angeles has a wonderful history with this unique athletic event. If the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics is successful, it will become just the second city to host three Olympic Games—creating a new wave of history that may find its way into The Huntington’s collections.
Natalie Russell is The Huntington’s assistant curator of literary manuscripts.