History of the Boston Marathon

A lot has changed in the History of the Boston Marathon since its first run in the spring of 1897. Today, what is certainly the oldest and most revered marathon in the country, perhaps the world, began as an ambitious vision by US Olympic Team Manager John Graham after witnessing the first-of-its-kind race at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

With help from Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) founders the first official Boston Marathon took place on April 19th, 1897.

The BAA officials designed the current course to match the original in Greece: a 25-mile hilly route culminating at a stadium, or the closest thing to a stadium that Boston had at the time, the 220-yard Irvington Street Oval.

At exactly 12:19 p.m., 18 men leaped from the starting line in front of Metcalf's Mill in Ashland (since 1924, the race has begun at Hopkinton Green). The starting official had no gun; he simply shouted "Go!" to start the BAA marathon.

In the early history of the Boston Marathon, runners endured the narrow and dusty dirt roads winding their way to Boston. Today, of course, the roads are wide and paved.

From the early days in the history of the Boston Marathon, the starting line has been in flux, dictated by an often-repositioned finish line. In the marathon's third year, the BAA moved the finish line in front of its old clubhouse on the corner of Boylston and Exeter streets, site of the expanded portion of the Boston Public Library.

The starting line was pushed backward along Pleasant Street and onto High Street, where it rested on the Boston and Albany railroad bridge. The 22-foot wide bridge was more than adequate to handle the 17 starters that year.

1907 marked another move for the Marathon starting line. Repairs to the Metcalf Hill railroad bridge and an unprecedented 124 runners forced the start down the street to Steven's Corner on Hopkinton Road.

Thomas Longboat, an Onondaga Indian and a running legend by the time of the 1907 race, came from his home near Hamilton, Ontario to run the Boston Marathon. The automobile- and bicycle-infested streets of Boston and surrounding communities were a far cry from the uncrowded streets of the reservation where Longboat trained.

Longboat, who ran with a cold, was part of a leading 10-person pack. In Framingham, a freight train crossed the Marathon route just after the pack passed by, creating a log jam for the other 114 runners, including Olympic gold medalist Tom Hicks.

Longboat went on to win the Marathon. Through all the history of the Boston Marathon, he never returned for another one, but became a professional, racing indoors for prize money and a stadium full of bettors.

In 1924, the course was lengthened again to 26 miles, 385 yards. With that change, the start left Ashland forever, moving up the road and across the town border into Hopkinton.

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