Monday 28 June 2021

Week 26: How did Parisians get 'live' news from the Dempsey - Carpentier fight in New Jersey?

100 years ago this week: Week 26

One of the biggest and longest running stories of 1921 came to a dramatic conclusion in the first weekend of July. 5700km from Paris, boxer and local favourite Georges Carpentier took on American heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, but Parisians still found ways to follow the fight almost blow by blow. How did they manage to stay up-to-date in a pre-radio era, and how did the fight revolutionise sports coverage in the world?

Read on to find out.

Week 26 - half way through the year already! It seems appropriate therefore to bring a story to a conclusion that has already been mentioned here. One of the first French sporting superstars (and manufacturer of pots and pans - and souvenir ash trays I later discovered), was finally jumping into the ring with the fearsome Jack Dempsey. Alongside the sporting challenge there was also a challenge of honour. Carpentier had been a pilot and war hero, whilst Dempsey was accused of draft dodging. Who would win the fight, and - more importantly for Parisians - how would they know what was happening nearly 6000km away?

The day before the fight

Where will you go this evening, to wait for the result of the match? That's the question that everyone is asking.

We are promised so many celestial celebrations, so many airplanes, rockets, multicoloured butterflies, flares, siren calls, roman candles, lightboards, so many outdoor messaging systems sharing round by round, minute by minute, punch by punch information that we are spoilt for choice.

People will wander the streets, eyes fixed on the sky, ready to decipher the colour enigmas. Others will go calmly to the theatre where they will be certain to get the results while comfortably seated, whilst others will sit at café terraces and wait for the press to give them the news.

And then there are others who will stay at home, those who will still be in bed by nine despite the match. But you have to admit that these are few and far between!

Theatres were obliged to promise latest news from the fight if they wanted to attract an audience to their performances.


Red: Carpentier is the winner; green: Dempsey is the winner; yellow: a tie.

This is the signalling system that our colleagues at Sporting will use on their balcony at 16, Bd Montmartre to announce the result of the big Carpentier-Dempsey match in record time from its correspondant in New York.

Expect many people to be gathered on the Boulevard Montmartre at 8.30pm!


How the result arrived

In New Jersey, 80,000 people followed the fight live in a specially built outdoor arena. In the region of New York in a 250 mile radius, 350,000 people listened to one of the world's first live radio broadcasts (read this fascinating article to find out how the fight inspired a revolution in sports broadcasting). But what about in Paris? News from across the Atlantic would generally take hours or even days to arrive, but ingenious technicians and newspapers found novel ways to get the information to people almost in real-time.  

Let's start with the result though. The champion Dempsey retained his crown, knocking out the challenger Carpentier in the 4th round. Round by round updates had Carpentier ahead early on, so the result was a big disappointment and surprise for Parisians. The news was coming across the Atlantic via radiotelegraphy. Updates were tapped out in morse code, then transcribed by operators in Paris, and shared with correspondants across the city. As mentioned above, some addresses presented the results with firsworks in pre-defined colours (flares were also let off from the Eiffel tower), but the Petit Parisien newspaper believes it was first to share the news - via airplane!

It was by plane that Parisians from all the quarters discovered the result of the match. And this plane was none other than the Goliath, built by the great Farman company based in Billancourt. It was flown by the brilliant aviator Bossoutrot. One of our collaborators, an officer pilot during the war, was also on board. Just a few minutes after the end of the fight, which we can say thrilled both hemispheres, the aircraft left the aerodrome and headed for the Paris Stock Exchange. After having fired fireworks and thrown overboard thousands of leaflets with the name of the winner written on them, it continued its flight in a series of circles out to the fortifications. In this way, each inhabitant of the city knew the result of the fight as quickly as a New York millionaire or Chicago trader.

Outside of the city, news didn't travel so fast, and the disappointment was all the greater. Not only had their favourite lost, but they also missed the big party that has taken place on the streets of the capital all evening!

In the suburban towns where people didn't hear the sirens or see the aircraft, groups gathered at the train station. When travellers got off the trains after 9pm, only one question was on the lips of the crowd:

- Who won?

The walk back home was a silent one.


C-Marie said...

Really interesting!! Thank you!! God bless, C-Marie

Barbara Nimmo said...

It's always captivating to learn about the different ways people obtained information in the past, especially in such a beautiful and historic city like Paris.

Ashlee Rolfson said...

Your blog post on how Parisians got live news during week 26 was a fascinating journey through history. Thank you for sharing your insights into the past, and I look forward to reading more about Paris's history and culture.

Kit Charles said...

"I always look forward to new posts from this blog. The author's passion and dedication to their subject matter shine through, making it a pleasure to read. Keep the great content coming!"

Abigale Huels said...

"The author's dedication to maintaining a high standard of quality in their content is evident in every post. This blog is like a beacon of excellence in the vast sea of online information."

Jennifer Walsh said...

The blog's meticulous exploration transports readers to a bygone era. Just as Parisians sought 'live' updates, the thought of '' introduces a practical inquiry

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