Robert Garrett

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Robert Garrett
BASA-3K-7-422-22-Robert Garrett throwing the discus at 1896 Summer Olympics.jpg
Personal information
Born May 24, 1875
Baltimore County, Maryland
Died April 25, 1961(1961-04-25) (aged 85)
Baltimore, Maryland
Height 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight 81 kg (179 lb; 12.8 st)
Country  United States
Sport Athletics

Robert Garrett (May 24, 1875[1] – April 25, 1961) was an American athlete. He was the first modern Olympic champion in discus throw and shot put.


Robert S. Garrett was born in Baltimore County, Maryland into one of the most prominent and wealthiest families in Maryland. He was the son of Thomas Harrison Garrett and Alice Dickerson Whitridge Garrett.[2] The Garretts were a railroad and financing family; Robert was the grandson of John Work Garrett, (1820-1884), the longtime president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the great-grandson of Robert Garrett, founder of a finance and shipping firm founded in 1819. The younger Robert Garrett studied at Princeton University. He excelled in track and field athletics as an undergraduate, and was captain of the Princeton track team in both his junior and senior years. Garrett was primarily a shot-putter, though he also competed in the jumping events. When he decided to compete in the first modern Olympic games being revived and held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, Professor William Milligan Sloane suggested he should also try the discus.

They consulted classical authorities to develop a drawing and Garrett hired a blacksmith to make a discus. It weighed nearly 30 pounds (14 kg) and it was impossible to throw any distance, so he gave up on the idea. Garrett paid for his own and three classmates' (Francis Lane (finished third in 100 m), Herbert Jamison (finished second in 400 m), and Albert Tyler (placed second in pole vault) way to Athens to compete in the games. When he discovered that a real discus weighed less than five pounds, he decided to enter the event for fun.

1896 Olympics[edit]

The Greek discus throwers were true stylists. Each throw, as they spun and rose from a classical Discobolus stance, was intended to be beautiful.[attribution needed] Garrett, who seized the discus in his right hand and swinging himself around and around, the way the hammer is usually thrown, threw the discus with tremendous force. Garrett's first two throws were clumsy. Instead of sailing parallel to the ground, the discus turned over and over and narrowly missed hitting some of the audience. Both foreigners and Americans laughed at his efforts and he joined in the general merriment. His final throw, however, punctuated with a loud grunt, sent the discus sailing 19 centimetres (7.5 in) beyond the second-place throw (by Panagiotis Paraskevopoulos) mark at 29.15 metres (95 ft 8 in).

American spectator Burton Holmes wrote: "All were stupefied. The Greeks had been defeated at their own classic exercise. They were overwhelmed by the superior skill and daring of the Americans, to whom they ascribed a supernatural invincibility enabling them to dispense with training and to win at games which they had never before seen." According to James Connolly, in five of the track and field events won by Americans, they had not had a single day of outdoor practice since the previous fall.

Garrett also won the shot put with a distance of 11.22 metres (36 ft 10 in) and finished second in the high jump (tied equally with James Connolly at 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in)) and second in the long jump (with a jump of 6.00 metres (19 ft 8 in)).

In the 1984 NBC television multi-episode miniseries, "The First Olympics: Athens 1896", Garrett was portrayed by Hunt Block. In the second episode, Garrett was incorrectly portrayed as being a participant in the first Olympic Marathon.[citation needed]

1900 Olympics[edit]

In the 1900 Olympics, Garrett placed third in the shot put and the standing triple jump. His bronze medal in the shot put was unusual, as he refused to compete in the final due to it being held on a Sunday. His qualifying mark was good enough to place him in third. He also competed in the discus throw again, but due to a poorly planned course was unable to set a legal mark as his discus throws all hit trees.

Garrett was also a member of the Tug-of-War team at the 1900 Olympics that was forced to withdraw because three of its six members were engaged in the hammer throw final.

Life after Olympics[edit]

Garrett later became a banker and financier at his grandfather's historic mercantile firm Robert Garrett and Sons in Baltimore. Garrett had an early intensive interest in science, especially in history and archeology, and became an early collector and donator. He helped to organize and finance an archaeological expedition to Syria, led by Dr. John M. T. Finney. From 1932 to 1939, he was involved with the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and Its Vicinity both helping to fund the excavations and working on them. Garrett's hobby was collecting medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. In 1942, Garrett donated his collection of more than 11,000 manuscripts to Princeton University, including the "Aksum Scrolls" and sixteen Byzantine Greek manuscripts, containing rare examples of illuminated Byzantine art.

Garrett was for many years an enthusiastic alumnus and served as trustee of Princeton University and also on the governing board of the Baltimore Museum of Art, founded in 1914 by his aunt Mary Elizabeth Garrett, (1857-1915).

Garrett amassed a collection of historical volumes of Western and non-Western manuscripts, fragments, and scrolls, originating from Europe, the Near East, Africa, Asia and Mesoamerica, ca. 1340 B.C. – A.D. 1900s. He inherited his collecting interest from his father, Thomas Harrison Garrett. After his father's sudden death in 1888, Robert spent the following two and a half years traveling extensively with his mother and two brothers, Horatio and John, in Europe and the Near East. During his travels Garrett developed a particular interest in manuscripts and began collecting. He used the text Universal Paleography: or, Facsimiles of Writing of All Nations and Periods by J. B. Silvester (by Sir Frederic Madden, London, 1949–50) as his guide for collecting primary examples of every known type of script.

Through a mayoral appointment, Garrett served as the chairman of the city's Public Improvement Commission. He was also largely responsible for bringing the new Boy Scouts of America to Baltimore in 1910.[3] He managed the BSA in Baltimore until his retirement in 1934. In 1919, Garrett gave to the City of Baltimore a tract of land of a city block along East Patapsco Avenue, between Second and Third Streets in its recently annexed Brooklyn neighborhood in South Baltimore to be used as a public park, which was named in his honor.

Garrett was a leader in the development of public recreational facilities in Baltimore and organized the Public Athletic League which later merged with a similar earlier Children's Playground Association, many of which were privately funded by himself and his friends and colleagues. He was the first chairman of Baltimore City's Bureau of Recreation, and the first chairman of the City's Board of Park Commissioners for the combined Department of Recreation and Parks. Garrett was through much of his life an active member of the National Recreation Association, and was elected its chairman in 1941.

In the Baltimore mayoral campaign of 1947, both the Republican and Democratic nominees promised that, if elected, they would name Garrett as chairman of the City's Department of Recreation and Parks. A devout Presbyterian throughout his life, he was a member of their national convention - the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and was recognized in 1948 as the year's outstanding layperson in the field of religious education by the International Council of Religious Education.

In the realm of civil rights for African-Americans, Garrett was a staunch conservative and opposed then any racial integration of the City's public facilities in the parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts and recreation centers, which were coming into increasing controversy as the national civil rights movement expanded in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was later asked to resign from the Board of Park Commissioners when a positive vote for integration was taken.

Garrett died on April 25, 1961, in Baltimore, Maryland.

See also[edit]


  • De Wael, Herman. Herman's Full Olympians: "Athletics 1900". Accessed 18 March 2006. Available electronically at [1].
  • Mallon, Bill (1998). The 1900 Olympic Games, Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 0-7864-0378-0. 
  • Robert Garrett Papers, 1903-1949 (bulk 1920-1945), Princeton University Library, Manuscripts Division. [2].
  • The New York Times, Obituaries, April 26, 1961.
  • The Baltimore Sun, Obituaries, April 26, 1961.

External References[edit]