"It took us only a week to teach him how to drive. The man did not know what fear was. All that he had to learn was how to control the monster [the '999'].... It was not known how much speed a motor car could develop. No one knew better than Oldfield what the turns meant and as he took his seat, while I was cranking for the start, he remarked cheerily: 'Well, this chariot may kill me, but they will say afterward that I was going like hell when she took me over the bank.'
"And he did go. He never dared to look around. He did not shut off on the curves. He simply let that car go—and go it did. He was about half a mile ahead of the next man at the end of the race!
"The '999' did what it was intended to do: It advertised the fact that I could build a fast motor car. A week after the race I formed the Ford Motor Company."
By the '20s the U.S. had become an urban nation. The majority of Americans were no longer tillers of the soil but workers in cities and towns. They sought release not in their daily round of activities but in watching or listening to others, at home with the radio, in a movie palace or in a stadium. It was the age of the spectator. " America is reaching back for bigness to Greece and Rome, whose fun took material form in building giant sports arenas," a writer exulted in Collier's. "So far we have not surpassed the ancients. But where Athens had one big stadium and Rome several, we are building them by the dozens."
Following the example set earlier by the Ivy League, colleges all over spent huge sums on huge fields. To fill these "lunar craters," as Football Coach Alonzo Stagg called them, they needed huge crowds. They got them by recruiting players. When faculties complained, Liberty magazine said the professors were jealous and added: "The problem is not the elimination or the restriction of football, but how long it will be before red-blooded colleges demand the elimination or restriction of those afflicted with this inferiority complex." In honor of the late Walter Camp, Yale alumni helped raise $180,000 for a memorial gateway, but other Yale admirers of Josiah Willard Gibbs, the greatest physicist the country had produced, were unable to scratch up $12,000 for a more modest tribute.
The spectator boom hit boxing almost as heavily as it did football. In all its previous history, boxing could boast only four $100,000 gates. In the '20s, with Tex Rickard leading the way, it had 45, four of more than $1 million, one of more than $2 million.
The new device of radio added to the ballyhoo, and JL sport, in turn, added to radio. For the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, David Sarnoff, a young employee of RCA, patched together the first network, albeit a temporary one. Station WEAF was the first to use long-distance phone lines, piping a football game from Chicago to New York. Sport comprised a third of radio's time in the '20s, and the glut was such that a writer joked: "This is Station KDKAWX-KEAZFOW. The boys are in top notch condition and as the first ball was pitched Epinard broke clean and scored two goals on a good mashie pitch that just cleared the right-field stands and narrowly missed killing Tilden's backhand three inches from the cup when the entire Washington team was awarded to McGraw on points just as the chukker ended. Listen to the cheering!"
Spectator sport triumphed over education on the high school level. In Middletown basketball swept all before it. The 1890 class motto had been "Deo Duce"; in 1924 it was "To the Bearcats." The city voted $100,000 for a new gym at the same time it cut library funds to a point of inadequacy, the Lynds reported. "North Side and South Side, Catholic and Kluxer, banker and machinist—their one shout is 'Eat 'em, beat 'em, Bearcats!' "
For all the restless millions, the crazy spending and the ballyhoo, American life had lost much of the physical vigor that had cheered observers in the '90s. To be sure, golf was growing, but then Theodore Roosevelt—the advocate of "hit the line hard" and "play the game"—had once warned Taft against it as a sissy game. To the stray bicyclist in Middletown, small boys were wont to shout, "Aw, get a machine." And F. Scott Fitzgerald, who should have known, wrote: "Americans were getting soft. There were signs everywhere: we still won the Olympic games but with champions whose names had few vowels in them—teams composed, like the fighting Irish combination of Notre Dame, of fresh overseas blood. Once the French became really interested, the Davis Cup gravitated automatically to their intensity in competition. The vacant lots of the Middle-Western cities were built up now—except for a short period in school, we were not turning out to be an athletic people like the British, after all.... Of course, if we wanted to we could be in a minute; we still had all those reserves of ancestral vitality, but one day in 1926 we looked down and found we had flabby arms and a fat pot and couldn't say boob-boop-a-doop to a Sicilian."
The Depression and the New Deal turned the trend toward participant sport. Although in the Depression millions were out of work, the average employed worker gained added leisure time because of increased industrial efficiency, legislation and union agitation. By the end of 1939 he had one day more of leisure than he had had in 1929 and two days more than his counterpart had had in 1890. In its public works programs, the Federal Government put heavy stress on recreation facilities, spending almost $1.5 billion by 1938. State, county and local governments added another $500 million. The WPA built 10,000 tennis courts, 3,026 athletic fields, 2,261 horseshoe courts, 1,817 handball courts, 805 swimming pools, 318 ski trails and 254 golf courses. Federal purchase of forest lands rose from half a million acres annually to two million, and in 1934 Congress authorized the establishment of fish and game sanctuaries in the national forests for the first time. In 1934 visitors to national parks totaled six million; in 1940 the total was 20 million.