Harvard crew at the International Boat Race on the Thames in 1869.
On this day 27th. August 1869 the 1st International Boat Race took place on the River Thames between Oxford University and Harvard.
Oxford beat Harvard.
The race had been organised after a challenge to Oxord in the following terms:
Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 6,1869.
To the President of the Oxford University Boat Club:
The undersigned, in behalf of the Harvard University Boat Club, hereby challenges the Oxford University Boat Club to row a race in outrigger boats from Putney to Mortlake, some time between the middle of August and the 1st of September, 1869, each boat to carry four rowers and a coxswain. The exact time to be agreed upon at a meeting of the crews. This challenge to remain open for acceptance one week after date of reception.
William H. Simmons, Capt. H. U. B. C.
A group of Harvard students founded the first college crew in 1844 thereby introducing a sport that was already popular in many east coast cities.
In 1852 the ‘Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad’ sponsored boat crews to participate in the Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, regatta.
Harvard defeated Yale.
In 1858, rowing clubs from Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Trinity created the College Regatta Association. In the following year the first regatta was held on the Connecticut River before a crowd of upwards of 20,000, with Harvard emerging victorious.
When the Harvard crew arrived in England in 1869, rowing had become an established sport in American universities.
On the day of the race “Every inn, every dwelling-house, every shanty along that river bank was a mine of gold to its owner,” opined Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, “Twelve guineas were paid by one American gentleman for two small windows in the White Hart, at Mortlake.”
The contest was raced on a flood tide from Putney to Mortlake as had become the tradition between the Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Establishing an early lead, Harvard was eventually caught and overtaken by Oxford who won by six seconds (just a half-length up or a length and a half) depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean the newspaper was printed!
The result was telegraphed to the USA by the new transatlantic cable.