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10 Things You Didn't Know About The First Issue Of Sports Illustrated

SI turns 63 years old today. Here's a look back at Vol. 1, No. 1.

The first issue of Sports Illustrated is dated Aug. 16, 1954. In honor of the magazine's 63rd birthday, here are some fun facts about Vol. 1, No. 1.

1. The cover photo, by Mark Kauffman, famously features future Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews at the plate for the Braves at Milwaukee's County Stadium. The other two people are New York Giants catcher Wes Westrum and umpire AugieDonatelli. Mathews is the only player to play for the Braves in each of the three cities the franchise called home: Boston, Milwaukee (where it lasted from 1953 to '65) and Atlanta. Of course, neither of those teams is located in the same city anymore, as the Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season.

2. The cover would be re-used six other times in SI's history. Twice it was included in a collage of covers on the front page and four times it was the lead image, most recently in a photo mosaic for the Aug. 11, 2014 issue celebrating the magazine's 60th birthday.

3. Though the cover is dated Aug. 16, the photo is actually from a game that took place on June 9, 1954. New York, which would go on to win the World Series that year, won 4-0 that night en route to a four-game sweep in Milwaukee. In addition to Mathews, who went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, four other Cooperstown-bound players were on the field that day: Outfielders Monte Irvin (who went 0-for-2 with three walks) and Willie Mays (0-for-2, two walks) of the Giants and Hank Aaron (2-for-3) and pitcher Warren Spahn, who took the loss, for the Braves.


4. There is no story on Mathews or the Braves in that issue. Covers, of course, are essentially promotions for content that can be found elsewhere in the magazine. In fact, the only direct mention of the then-22-year-old Mathews refers to him as "Ed" and is used on the contents page to describe the cover image. That is also how Mathews is referred to in his 1954 Topps baseball card, which is one of 27 included with the issue, on which his signature is reproduced as "Edwin", his full name. The first mention of Eddie Mathews in the pages of SI didn't come until the Sept. 6, 1954 issue. Westrum, though, was mentioned in that debut issue, in a paragraph of Martin Kane’s story “The Baseball Bubble Trouble" about baseball cards.

So why was Mathews on the cover? Walter Bingham, a longtime editor at the magazine who joined the staff in 1955 and stayed until retiring in 1987, guesses it may have been not because Mathews was a rising star or because baseball was the national pastime but because of all the people in the background. "I imagine it was chosen because there was a good crowd—'you see, everyone loves sports'," he wrote in an email.

SI VAULT: Look through every page of the first issue of SI (08.16.1954)

5. Among the other Topps cards are those of Mays, Johnny Antonelli (the Giants pitcher who won the game where the cover photo was taken), Ted Williams, Larry Doby, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson. The issue also had a story on Roger Bannister—who would become the magazine's first Sportsman of the Year that year—beating John Landy called “Duel of the Four-Minute Men,” and a story proclaiming the mid-1950s to be “The Golden Age of Sport.”

6. It also included a now-infamous item called “Jimmy Jemail’s Hot Box,” which would run until 1960. The first issue had Jemail, who primarily worked for the New York Daily News, pose a question to regular Americans: “What sport provokes the most arguments in your home?” Among the answers that look even worse in retrospect than they did back then: “The doubleheader…My husband isn’t a fan. He will plead with me: ‘Our friends are hungry; go out and grill those steaks.’ But I don’t hear him.”

7. The in-house name for the new sports magazine around Time Inc. was Muscles. A test issue produced in April 1954 had an industry-appropriate, if even worse, billing: “Dummy.”


8. There had actually been two other magazines called Sports Illustrated already. The first was a monthly that existed from 1936 to ’38 and then a weekly that lasted six issues in 1949. Time Inc. co-founder Henry Luce bought the rights for $5,000 and a lifetime subscription to the name's owner.

SI 60: Check out the best stories in the history of Sports Illustrated

9. By the time SI turned 25 in 1979, there were nine staffers who had been there from the very beginning. The most familiar name to SI's readers may have been Robert Creamer, a baseball writer and longtime editor who authored the definitive biography of Babe Ruth, Babe: The Legend Comes To Life. The last to leave was ElanoreMilosovic, who retired as the Chief of Special Correspondents at the end of 1985.

10. SI produced just 20 issues in its first year and still lost $6 million. It would be 10 years before the magazine was profitable.