The World’s First Celebrity Athlete
Part of Babe Ruth’s influence can be attributed to the fact that his most successful years were during the “Roaring 20’s”. It was a time in American culture where society admired and flocked to exuberance on all levels. The U.S. had recently won World War I and America emerged into a period of great pride, a booming economy and a mentality of consumption. It was also the time when mass media (radio and newspapers) really started to have a big effect on culture in the U.S. Communications reached new levels of efficiency and local stories easily became national stories.
Given Babe’s prominence both on and off the field, he became an icon for America’s greatness and passion for living. The message of the legendary Babe Ruth was conveyed throughout the country and the world. As Tom Stanton, a baseball historian and author, has said, “It’s difficult to convey to people today just how popular a sports figure Babe really was in American history. He’s the most mythologized figure in American sports history – a huge icon. Of all the colorful figures that existed during the 20’s and 30’s, Babe was at the front of the line.”
In 1930, Babe made $80,000 a year, which was $5,000 more than the current U.S. President, Herbert Hoover. Given the time-period of the Depression, it was considered by many to be astonishing. When a reporter asked the Babe if he thought that it was right to be making more money than the President, Babe responded, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.” His comment was cocky and confident, mixed with some humor — exactly what America needed and wanted to hear at the time.
It’s clear the impact that he had on the general population when you consider the number of personal and radio appearances made by the Babe, as well as photo images and newspaper articles about him. Probably one of the most notable signs of his celebrity status was the large amount of endorsements that he made, especially considering that the concept of athlete endorsements hadn’t been popularized at this point in American culture. There was no Nike or Reebok to take pro sports stars to this heightened status. Even so, Babe was already there, as evidenced by the advertisements in which Babe appeared. We invite you to sample just some of these ads.