National Museum of American History Receives Joe Louis’ Boxing Gloves From Historic 1936 Fight

February 1, 2007
In a special ceremony on January 31st the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History accepted the donation of Joe Louis’ boxing gloves, worn in his first historic bout with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936. Ken Milburn, whose family has had the gloves for the past 70 years, donated them to the museum. Milburn received the gloves from his uncle, Earle A. Cuzzens, who was a former business partner of Louis’ lifelong manager, John Roxborough.

The gloves and accompanying photographs of Louis, Cuzzens and Roxborough complement items already in the collection that pertain to the June 1938 rematch between Louis and Schmeling, including an advertising poster and the towel that was thrown in to end the bout after only two minutes, when Louis was declared the decisive victor. Louis, who grew up in Detroit, held the world heavyweight boxing title from 1937 to 1948. The second meeting between Louis and Schmeling in 1938 is regarded often as one of the greatest sporting moments of the 20th century, cementing Louis’ place in the country’s collective memory.

A unique addition to the museum’s national collection, the gloves symbolize the rapid societal change that occurred leading up to World War II. Both the heartbreaking 1936 defeat and the 1938 fight drew mass media attention given the nature, record and race of both men.

Among the related objects already in the collection are the gloves and robe Muhammad Ali wore during the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire in 1974 and first national sports celebrity John L. Sullivan’s championship belt, which dates from 1886.

“Despite the museum being closed for renovation, the active collection of artifacts is ongoing,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History. “These gloves represent a very special chapter in American sports and social history, and we are grateful that Mr. Milburn felt that this was the appropriate place for their preservation,” he added.

The gloves and photographs will be placed on display in the “Treasures of American History” exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum during this summer.

"Treasures of American History" closed April 13, 2008.  For information about the Museum's reopening, go to our renovation page.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations on and will re-open in summer 2008. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000, (202) 357-1729 (TTY).