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Henry Armstrong Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114433).

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Armstrong, Henry (12 December 1912–22 October 1988), boxer, was born Henry Jackson, Jr., near Columbus, Mississippi, the son of Henry Jackson. His mother, whose name is unknown, was a full-blooded Iroquois, and his father was of mixed Indian, Irish, and black ancestry. He was the eleventh child in a family of sharecroppers. When he was four years old his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where his father and oldest brothers worked in the food-processing industry. His mother died a few years later, after which he was reared by his paternal grandmother. He graduated from Toussaint L’Ouverture Grammar School and Vashon High School, working during his school years as a pinboy at a bowling alley and becoming interalley bowling champion in midtown St. Louis. He gained his first boxing experience by winning a competition among the pinboys....

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Attell, Abe (22 February 1884–06 February 1970), featherweight boxer, was born Albert Knoehr in San Francisco, California, the son of Mark Knoehr and Annie (maiden name unknown), Russian Jewish immigrants. His father owned a small jewelry store in a predominately Irish neighborhood south of Market Street. As a youth, Attell sold newspapers in front of the Mechanics’ Pavilion at Eighth and Market Streets, and he engaged in many street battles to protect his territory. By 1900, he had already assumed the name “Abe Attell,” by which he would be known for the rest of his life. Two of his brothers, Monte and Caesar, followed him into boxing and also assumed the name of “Attell.”...

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Max Baer Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Baer, Max (11 February 1909–21 November 1959), world heavyweight boxing champion, was born Maximilian Adelbert Baer in Omaha, Nebraska, the oldest son of Jacob Baer and Dora Baer (maiden name unknown). His father, a cattle dealer and buyer for Swift and Company in Omaha, later moved his family to Durango, Colorado, and then to Livermore, California, where he bought a ranch and raised livestock. Max graduated from elementary school in Livermore and attended high school for one year, then quit school and went to work herding cattle and butchering meat for his father. Later Baer worked in an Oakland, California, factory in which diesel engines were manufactured....

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Jim Braddock Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Braddock, Jim (07 June 1906–29 November 1974), world heavyweight boxing champion, was born James Walter Braddock in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan, New York City, the sixth child of Joseph Braddock, an English-born furniture mover, and Elizabeth O'Toole Braddock. Soon after his birth, the family soon moved to Guttenberg (later North Bergen), New Jersey, where he attended St. Joseph Parochial School. His schooling ended at age thirteen after he knocked out another boy in a fight. He worked as a telegraph messenger, errand boy, printer's devil, and teamster and began his amateur boxing career at age seventeen, turning professional at age twenty, in 1926. He was managed throughout his boxing career by Joe Gould, who renamed him “James J. Braddock,” after former heavyweight champions ...

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Britton, Jack (14 October 1885–27 March 1962), professional boxer, was born William James Breslin near Clinton, New York, the son of Charles Breslin, a day laborer, and Eliza Jane Sweet. He lived in Oneida County, New York, and New Britain, Connecticut, until he was ten years old, when his family moved to Chicago. There he became a newsboy and learned to fight on the streets to protect his territory. By 1900 he was fighting in privately staged boxing events called “smokers,” especially in the mail room of the ...

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Brown, Joe (18 May 1925–21 November 1997), professional prizefighter, was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Only a few details are known concerning Brown's family background and childhood. A 1956 article in the Ring magazine, which included an interview with Brown, reported that his father was a carpenter and that he had two sisters. Neither of his parents is named, nor is his mother mentioned. Attending racially segregated public schools designated for “colored” children in East Baton Rouge Parish, Brown excelled in athletics at McKinley High School, playing on the varsity squads in baseball, basketball, and football. Forced by economic circumstances to leave school during his junior year, he found work at a neighborhood grocery and assisted his father on carpentry jobs. Like many young men of the period, Brown was inspired to take up boxing by the example of Joe Louis, who had become a national hero since winning the heavyweight boxing championship in 1937....

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Canzoneri, Tony (06 November 1908–08 December 1959), boxer, was born in Slidell, Louisiana, the son of Sicilian immigrants George Canzoneri and Josephine (maiden name unknown), occupations unknown. He grew up on the streets of New Orleans, working as a bootblack, and began boxing at age eleven. He took part in impromptu matches held in the yards of tenement houses, where he was seen by bantamweight champion ...

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Primo Carnera Left, with Italian vice consul Fortunato Anselmo in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1930. Courtesy of the State of Utah.

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Carnera, Primo (26 October 1906–29 June 1967), world heavyweight boxing champion, was born in Sequals, a town in northern Italy known for its mosaic industry, the son of Sante Carnera, who worked in that industry, and Giovanna Mazziol Carnera. Primo Carnera's native tongue was the Friulian dialect of northern Italy. His formal education having ended in the third grade, he had limited ability in reading and writing. In his early teens he left home to work for an uncle who lived in Le Mans, France, and earned his living there by performing menial tasks in the building trade. Tall—almost six feet seven inches—and powerfully built, he was working for a traveling circus by the time he was twenty-one years old; he was billed as "Juan the Unbeatable Spaniard," and daily met the challenges of all comers in boxing, wrestling, and weight-lifting....

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Carter, Rubin “Hurricane” (6 May 1937–20 Apr. 2014), a boxer unjustly incarcerated for murder and later an activist on behalf of the wrongfully accused, was the fourth of six children born to Bertha and Lloyd Carter, Sr. in Delawanna, a suburban section of Clifton, a town in northern New Jersey. Lloyd Carter worked in a factory and had an ice delivery business. Both parents were devout Christians. As a boy Carter had a severe stutter. Consequently, he was ridiculed by his peers, but he learned to stand up for himself with his fists....

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Charles, Ezzard (07 July 1921–27 May 1975), heavyweight boxer, was born Ezzard Mack Charles in Lawrenceville, Georgia, the son of William Charles, a truck driver and later a janitor, and Alberta Foster. His parents were divorced when he was five years old, and at the age of nine he went to live with his grandmother and great-grandmother in Cincinnati, Ohio. There he received his education, which included three years of attendance at Woodward High School....

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Choynski, Joseph Bartlett (08 November 1868–25 January 1943), boxer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Isadore Choynski, a Jewish writer and book store owner, and Harriet Ashin. Although both of Choynski’s parents were intellectuals, and writers such as Mark Twain...

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Conn, Billy (08 October 1917–29 May 1993), world light-heavyweight boxing champion, was born William David Conn in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He was the oldest son of William Robert Conn, a steamfitter, and Irish-born Margaret McFarland Conn. Billy attended Sacred Heart Parochial School but his education ended with the fifth grade. He took up boxing after his father asked a friend, former boxer Johnny Ray, to teach his son how to defend himself. Ray soon found the boy to be an apt pupil and became his manager. Billy Conn had his first professional fight in 1934 at age sixteen, never having boxed as an amateur....

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Corbett, James John (01 September 1866–18 February 1933), boxer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Patrick J. Corbett, an Irish-born owner of a livery stable, and Katherine McDonald. He received some secondary education, first at St. Ignatius College and then at Sacred Heart College, before being expelled from the latter for fighting. At age 13 he became a messenger for the Nevada Bank of San Francisco and by the age of 19 had risen to the post of assistant receiving teller....

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James John Corbett. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103532).

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Coulon, Johnny (12 February 1889–29 October 1973), prizefighter, was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the son of Emile “Pop” Coulon. (His mother’s name is unknown.) His family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, when Coulon was three years old, and he lived there for the remainder of his life. He began amateur boxing in 1904 and won all 12 of his bouts. The following year he won his first professional bout with a sixth-round knockout of “Young Bennie” in Chicago. With his father as manager, he quickly rose to prominence by winning his first 26 professional fights. During that time, while in New York City for a bout, he saved a boy from drowning in the East River and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal....

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D’Amato, Cus (17 January 1908–04 November 1985), boxing coach and manager, was born Constantine D’Amato in the Bronx, New York, the son of Damiamo D’Amato and Elizabeth Rosato, Italian immigrants who had come to the United States in 1899. D’Amato’s father worked as a coal and ice delivery man to support his large family of eight sons, only five of whom survived infancy. Cus D’Amato was the second youngest. His mother died before he entered school; consequently, D’Amato grew up on the streets, where his given name was abbreviated to Cus. There he acquired his father’s love of pugilism and practiced it readily. D’Amato’s father had been a wrestler, and one of his brothers boxed. By the age of twelve he had suffered a head injury in a fight with an adult that left him nearly blind in one eye. After dropping out of high school D’Amato worked briefly as a millworker and as a campaign worker in New York City mayor ...