American Work-Sports

A History of Competitions for Cornhuskers, Lumberjacks, Firemen and Others


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About the Book

For more than a century the American farm, factory and frontier provided opportunities for physical workers to display their skill, win a bet, brag or perhaps just have some fun. Competitions that emphasized useful skills, like plowing, corn-husking, rock drilling, typesetting, and tree cutting, were common in the antebellum and post–Civil War periods, often drawing large crowds and the attention of sporting journals. For many years conventional American sports occurred in the workplace. This may help explain why the nicknames of so many prominent collegiate or professional sporting teams—Cornhuskers, Lumberjacks, Miners, Cowboys, Packers and Boilermakers—are also the occupations of 19th century worker-athletes.
By examining the American experience with competitions among workers, this book provides a new understanding of the interrelated nature of occupation and leisure.

About the Author(s)

Frank Zarnowski is a visiting professor of economics at Dartmouth College and was previously dean of the Graduate Program of Business at Mount St. Mary’s College, Maryland. He has been a television sports commentator since 1983 and was an NBC analyst for both the 1992 and 2004 Olympic Games.

Bibliographic Details

Frank Zarnowski

Foreword by Bil Gilbert

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 240
Bibliographic Info: 47 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6784-6
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9126-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Bil Gilbert 1
Preface 7
Introduction: The Emergence of American Work­Sports 13

Part One: Worker Competitions in the 19th Century, 1840–1900
1. Rock Breaking and Other Early Work­Sports 23
2. “Put Out That Fire”—Firemen’s Musters 31
3. Worker Games for Slaves 48
4. Setting Type, the Story of the Swifts 55
5. Circus Leapers 66
6. Ten Miles of Track in a Day 74

Part Two: Worker Competitions in the 20th Century, 1900–1940
7. Rodeo 83
8. Lumberjacks 96
9. Rock Drilling and Steel Drivin’ Men 105
10. Office Games 117
11. Corn Husking and Other Agricultural Contests 127

Part Three: What Happened to Worker Competitions, 1940 to the Present
12. Obsolete Work-Sports 145
13. Modern Work­Sports 160
14. Work­Sports in Popular Culture 170
15. Why Work­Sports? 178

1—U.S. Workers in Common Work­Sports Occupations, 1900 193
2—Sample Muster News Account 194
3—Numbers of U.S. Work­Sports Athletes, 2010 195
4—U.S. Occupational Sports, 2010 196
5—Wall Street Journal Front Page Work­Sports Stories, 1995–2005 198

Chapter Notes 201
Bibliography 213
Index 221

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