Today the Basketball Commemorative Half Dollar Coin remembers the first basketball game played with peach baskets in December 1891.
The game devised by James Naismith was played at Springfield College in Massachusetts.
A few years later, T. J. Browne, also of Springfield College, wrote about the origin of the game.
The following letter, Courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections, gives Dr. Naismith’s version of why he developed the game:
Copy of letter from James Naismith to T. J. Browne ’98. April 7, 1898
Dear Mr. Browne:
Your letter reached me Just as my final exams were beginning so that I have delayed answering till now. We finished up yesterday and will not know the results until tonight.
I shall attempt to give you the facts as nearly as I can and you can work it up to suit yourself.
It was in the session of 91 & 92. We had a class in the Sec’y dept. that was composed principally of men who had been in business and were accustomed to look on the practical side of everything.
They had been trained in all sorts of athletics and gymnastics until they thought they had enough and they began to rebel on having to spend an hour every day in the gym Jumping over the horse and straddling the bars.
When they got restive the question then was, is our work of the right kind to interest men?
About this time there was a revolt against the introduction of Swedish educational gymnastics to take the place of the children’s recess in the public schools. This led to the question of games.
At a meeting of the phys. dept. held in Dr. Gulick’s house (I think it was before the Christmas holidays) the question was brought up as to what constituted a good game, and it was agreed that so far as the development of the right type of manhood was concerned Lacrosse was the ideal game.
Then we talked over the different games and their good points and defects, and a strong desire that there was a game that would fill the requirements.
I happened to remark that I did not see why there could not be a game gotten up that would be all right. So Dr. Gulick said go ahead and see what you can do, and immediately turned over this class to my charge.
I felt then that I had a white elephant on my hands but started in to do the best I could.
I tried all the games that seemed to offer any hope and studied each one, but kept the idea of lacrosse always in my mind.
Then it occurred to me that the only way was to get one that would fill the requirements as nearly as possible. A large ball was easily handled, and stopping running would stop tackling and checking so that was the original thought which was developed into Basket Ball.
I sat down and wrote out 13 rules and had these typewritten and hung up in the gymnasium where the boys could read them.
Then I got a couple of baskets (peach) and with the aid of Mr. Stebbins hung them in position at the ends of the gym. When the class came down it was with a flutter of the heart that I watched the way in which this venture was going to take.
The first words were not very encouraging when one of the class made the remark, “Humph! a new game.”
I asked the boys to try it once as a favor to me to see if it would not work.
They started and after the ball was first thrown up there was no need for further coaxing as my work was finished and the boys did the rest.
It was carried by the boys to their homes and spread from that point.
Ruggles can give you an account of the first games that were played both in the school and outside.
You will see that the aim of the game to develop the man and not to make money or even to draw a crowd & while the latter objects are good yet I feel that the other ought to be chief purpose for which the game should be played.
I shall probably write you again about the rules as I thought of several things that might be slightly changed, and would add to the cleanness of the rules.
Do not print this as it is but work it up to suit yourself and any further questions that you may ask I shall be glad to answer you.
I remain yours, sincerely,
Would Dr. Naismith be astonished at the popularity of his peach basket game today?
The Basketball Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the early game, circa 1891.