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The History of the Harvard-Yale Boat Race – Part 1

Lake Winnipesaukee

If you were asked a question which is the most famous boat race in the world? You would probably answer the Oxford versus Cambridge University race on the river Thames. But for North Americans they would probably answer the Harvard versus Yale Regatta. The famous periodical, the Sports Illustrated has named this great event, The most venerable rivalry in all of college sports. The regatta dates back to 1852 which is over two decades after the first Oxford versus Cambridge race was held, but ever since has been one of the most popular and famous boat races on the planet.

The History of College Rowing in America

Rowing crews from the two great universities of Harvard and Yale have been in existence since the 1940’s, but there was no real competition in those days outside each university. Yale changed all that when they decided to throw down the gauntlet to Harvard in 1852, to race against each other on Lake Winnipesaukee. The race was between two Yale boats and one boat crewed by Harvard rowers. And it was the Harvard boat that won the day by an impressive four lengths. The prize was a coveted pair of black walnut oars which were presented by president elect Franklin Pierce.

It was to take another three years for the second battle to take place, and this time was held on the Connecticut River, which once again Harvard won but this time over with a one minute and thirty-eight seconds lead. Finally in 1864 the event became an annual affair with Yale finally winning the race.

New London

In 1878 the famous race finally came to New London, and has been held in Nameaug ever since. Tradition has even governed when the two teams arrive in New London and where they stay when they are there. Yale arrive twelve days prior to the event, whilst Harvard do not arrive five until days later and stay about a mile away from their competitors.

The Fiftieth Anniversary

The 50th Regatta wad presided over by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, and it saw a victory by the Yale crew, which was one of seventeen wins by Yale in nineteen years. In 1914 was the most closely contest race in the history of Harvard versus Yale, in which just an incredible one fifth of a second separated the two boats at the winning line, with Yale coming out victorious.

This famous Regatta of 1914 also introduced the new junior varsity race which was in eight oared boats, the same as the seniors. Eleven years later the greatest comeback was witnessed by a one hundred thousand crowd lining the shoreline. The Yale crew were losing at the mile point by a massive distance but managed to recover the ground rowing up-stream to pip their opponents. In 1936 another milestone was achieved in this great race when Harvard secured a decade of straight wins putting their fierce competitors firmly into the shade. We continue the history of this great Regatta in part two where we see the cancellation of this great race because of the Second World War.