In today’s world of video games, Internet and wide-screen TV’s, it’s easy to get depressed about the state of childhood in America, especially when we read the same old stories about how America’s kids are nothing more than blubbery couch potatoes. They say we don’t exercise, don’t get involved and eat too much junk food. But you know what?
I’m not so sure about that!
Sometimes it’s easy to believe everything you read, but maybe we shouldn’t….and I include myself in this as well. As I was doing some blog research last night on the Internet Archive for another topic, I stumbled across a video from 1936 about the All-American Soap Box Derby! After doing some more digging, I found out that it is still active today and the kids participate and LOVE it! Sure, some things have changed since the Thirties, but what hasn’t? How come we don’t hear much about this today? Surely, one can’t be a couch potato and do this? So what’s the deal? Let’s find out…..
Born in the depths of the Depression, the origins of the All-American Soap Box Derby started in Dayton Ohio, but then swiftly moved to Akron to take advantage of the sponsorship, terrain and economic atmosphere. Attracting both adults and children alike, its popularity soon spread. Sloganized via “Every Boy A CHAMPION”, the race at Derby Downs became an institution. They built the track in collaboration with the WPA, and corporate sponsorship with Chevrolet assured the funding needed to keep the contest going. Celebrities attended the races, including actors and popular media figures of the time, such as Rickenbacker, Ronald Reagan and even Jimmy Stewart.
While today’s racers utilize prefabricated construction and specialized racing wheels, this was not always the case, especially in the early years. In the book, Champions, Cheaters, and Childhood Dreams, we learn this:
“…Many of the original racers were built from shipping containers for soap. Before the invention of cardboard, soap and many other household items were shipped to retailers in wooden containers. The boxes were sturdy and made of pine….” (3)
The event, however, has not been without it’s share of controversy over the years, from the origins of the race itself, the decision to move to Akron and even sponsorship. Even with this, it’s become a bit of Americana now. There’s a quote from the official website that is really neat and is something to remember:
“…The goals of the Soap Box Derby program have not changed since it began in 1934. They are to teach youngsters some of the basic skills of workmanship, the spirit of competition and the perseverance to continue a project once it has begun…” (5)
As usual, I’ve found so much information that I just cannot fit into a single page post. So, to help out a bit, I’ve included a great set of links and sites containing more backstory, images and just generally neat stuff. It’s worth it to trip over to the Internet Archive to see the 1936 film on the event as well as proving a microcosm of America from the era.
It’s a great topic and knowing that it still works even today, proves to me (and maybe you) that our kids are not as bad off as everyone likes to think.
Have a great day!