Campus & Community


long read

June 22, 1903:

Thanks to an exceptionally large gift from the Class of 1879 (ten times the typical $10,000), groundbreaking for Harvard Stadium begins. Samples of earth taken from the riverside site expose compact gravel and clay – a fitting terrain for what’s to become the world’s largest reinforced concrete structure.

Nov. 14, 1903:
With one section of the stands still under construction, Harvard Stadium opens for its first athletic event, the Harvard-Dartmouth football game. The Crimson fail to extend their win streak of 18 games against “the Indians,” dropping the contest 11-0.

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Full stadium story

Nov. 21, 1903:
Fully complete, the stadium plays host to the 24th Harvard-Yale game. Some 40,000 fans witness the shutout, a 16-0 Yale win.

A pair of rinks at the stadium is home to Harvard hockey. The teams enjoy a three-year win streak in their open-air digs.

Oct. 1, 1904:
Harvard football kicks off a 7-2-1 campaign with a 24-0 upset of Williams. The victory marks Harvard’s first at the stadium.

June 1906:
The Classics Department mounts a production of Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” in the stadium. The performance, delivered in ancient Greek, features pyrotechnics, horses and chariots, and some distinguished audience members, including Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge and the governor of Massachusetts.

Sept. 28, 1906:
The forward pass – one of a series of brand new rules adopted to promote player safety – proves beneficial to Harvard, as the Crimson down Williams, 7-0.

November 1909:
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of dramatist Friedrich Schiller’s birth, the stadium hosts a performance of “The Maid of Orleans.” The play boasts some 1,500 actors and 15,000 spectators.

A colonnade is added to the stadium.

March 3, 1912:
For the convenience of large Saturday football crowds, the Boston Elevated Railway Co. opens Stadium Station on the current site of the Kennedy School of Government and JFK Park.

Nov. 22, 1913:
Harvard captures its first victory against Yale at the stadium, taking the 33rd edition of “the Game,” 15-5. Still, Yale owns the series, 22-7-5.

Harvard holds Commencement at the stadium, marking the University’s first outdoor graduation exercises.

The 40-piece Harvard University Band makes its debut at the Harvard-Boston College football game.

July 23, 1921:
At the Harvard-Yale-Oxford-Cambridge track meet (resumed after a wartime interruption), black track star Edward O. Gourdin ’23 sets a new world record of 25 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump.

Billed as a view of college life “through the eyes of a typical freshman,” the silent film “Brown of Harvard” features footage shot at a real Harvard football game in the stadium, including an after-game celebration on the field. The movie is most notable because of an un-credited extra who played a football player: John Wayne, in his first on-screen role.

Permanent steel stands replace temporary wooden stands at the north end of the field.

Nov. 2, 1931:
A packed stadium crowd of 58,000 watches Yale spoil Harvard’s previously undefeated season. The Crimson fall 3-0 in the final quarter.

May 9, 1936:
A lighted cigarette starts a blaze that consumes the stadium’s press box. The press box – “one of the best in the country” according to the Harvard Crimson – suffered $20,000 in damages.

Renowned British ceramics firm Wedgwood manufactures a series of Harvard china, including red-and-blue plates depicting the stadium.

June 18, 1941:
On the afternoon before Commencement, the Class of 1941 stages the last confetti battle in Harvard Stadium.

July 24, 1943:
At the request of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Harvard makes the stadium available for a track meet featuring a distance race between Swedish star Gunder Hägg and Gilbert Dodds of the Boston Athletic Association. Proceeds raised from the crowd of 14,000 go to the Army Air Forces’ Aid Society. Bomber planes fly overhead in celebration of the charity event. Hägg runs the fastest mile yet in the stadium, clocking in at 4:05.3.

Nov. 20, 1943:
The informal wartime football season ends in a 6-6 draw between Harvard and Boston College. Fifty-cent tickets make the game “the greatest football bargain of all time,” according to the Harvard Alumni Bulletin.

July 1-10, 1946:
As part of the centennial celebrations for the city of Cambridge, the stadium hosts a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Arthur Fiedler directs.

November 1948:
Eight M.I.T. pranksters plant explosive wire in the stadium’s turf in hopes of singeing the school’s initials into the grass during the 65th playing of “the Game” on Nov. 20. Harvard groundskeepers discover the wires and call in local police, who set up a trap that captures the wannabe pranksters. M.I.T. suspends or puts on probation nine student perpetrators.

Steel stands at the north end of the field are removed by order of the Harvard Corporation, which concluded that the $60,000 required to rebuild and reinforce them would be an unjustifiable expense in light of a long-term trend of lower attendance. Removal reduces stadium capacity from 57,750 to 40,000 and allows the field to be moved 10 yards closer to the bowl end, giving spectators a better view.

August 1955:
Hurricane Diane floods the Charles River and its massive concrete neighbor.

April 25, 1959:
Just outside the stadium, Cuban Premier Fidel Castro speaks to a crowd of more than 7,000 from a wooden platform outside Dillon Field House.

Aug. 14, 1960:
The newly formed (and subsequently transient) Boston Patriots “host” the Dallas Texans at the stadium in the first American Football League exhibition game ever played. The Texans win, 24-14.

Oct. 19, 1963:
President Kennedy watches his alma mater battle Columbia at the stadium. The game ends in a diplomatic 3-3 tie.

The 2003 Football Season

Oct. 25 Princeton 12 p.m.
Nov. 1 Dartmouth 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 @ Columbia 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 Pennsylvania 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 @ Yale 12:30 p.m.
Home games in bold.

To order tickets, call 1-877-GOHARVARD, or purchase tickets online.

Nov. 23, 1968:
The Crimson score 16 points in the final 42 seconds of the 85th annual Harvard-Yale game to secure a 29-29 draw. The spectacular finish earns Harvard an unofficial victory (29-29 “win”) in the hearts and minds of fans and the press.

April 14, 1969:
During the first of two mass rallies, an estimated crowd of 10,000 convenes in the stadium to decide the future of the student strike, announced after the physical eviction of student protesters occupying University Hall four days prior. By a slim margin (2,971 to 2,955), the crowd votes to continue the strike for three more days.

April 18, 1969:
At a second mass rally in the stadium, thousands vote (2,411 to 1,129) for a seven-day suspension of the student strike sparked by the University Hall bust, thereby effectively ending the strike. A vote of no confidence in the administration also passes, 1,873 to 1,568.

June 22-Aug. 17, 1970:
The stadium plays host to “Summerthing” – a concert series sponsored by the Office of Cultural Affairs of the Boston Mayor’s Office. Ray Charles, Miles Davis, B.B. King, Van Morrison, Ike and Tina Tuner, and Janis Joplin, among others, perform. (“Summerthing” marked Joplin’s last live performance. She died Oct. 4 in Hollywood.)

Summer 1970:
Following contentious talks for years between the University and Boston city administrators, Harvard agrees to give the Boston Patriots limited use of the stadium for the fall football season.

Sept. 27, 1970:
The Boston Patriots meet the New York Jets in the first Patriots home game at Harvard Stadium.

In the first polo match ever held at the stadium, a student team edges an alumni club, 3-2. The match raises $1,000 to preserve the game at Harvard.

Summer 1971:
The stadium’s field gets a face-lift that includes a higher crown, better drainage, and a new sprinkler system.

Oct. 2, 1971:
President Bok accepts a Harvard Crimson invitation for a game of six-man touch football. The administration’s team (“Bok’s Joks,” and later, “Box Jox”) ties the students, 6-6. The Crimson reports the self-flattering score of 23-2.

Firefighters battle one of the four fires set by arsonists in and around Harvard Stadium in 1981. One of the blazes destroyed the press box. (Staff file photo Joseph Wrinn/Harvard News Office)

Oct. 21, 1972:
On the Saturday of the Harvard-Cornell football game, some 4,500 Harvard employees and family members turn out for the University’s first Employee Appreciation Day (later, Field Day).

May 14, 1974:
The Harvard football and rugby teams meet at the stadium to commemorate the game that Harvard and McGill played exactly 100 years earlier (on Jarvis Field near Perkins Hall), thereby launching modern American football.

April 20, 1976:
At a stadium track meet against Yale, high jumper Mel Embree ’76 soars to new heights, clearing 7 feet, 2 inches. The feat breaks records for the meet, the stadium, and Embree’s own Harvard outdoor efforts. The jump also qualifies him for Olympic trials.

Oct. 30, 1976:
In the stadium during the halftime show of the Harvard-Brown football game, an impersonator of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein ’39 leads members of the Harvard Band and assorted string-wielding accomplices in a rendition of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. “Cleat” (Harvard Magazine’s pseudonymous sports reporter) gives the following play-by-play: “At halftime during the Brown game, the Harvard Band hired a helicopter to airlift conductor ‘Leonard Bernstein’ to the 50-yard line. There the ersatz celebrity led the Band, augmented by a 14-piece string section, in an approximation of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The Vienna symphonist is reliably reported to have rolled over.” (From Harvard Magazine, December 1976).

Bob Marley and the Wailers perform at the stadium.

April 1981:
Arsonists set four fires in and around Harvard Stadium. An 18-year-old Boston man is charged with setting three fires, including a six-alarm blaze that destroys the stadium press box. A smaller replacement costs up to $400,000.

Nov. 20, 1982:
During halftime of the Harvard-Yale football game, a black weather balloon imprinted with the letters “MIT” inflates from the 40-yard line. Apparently unfazed – or very, very angry – Harvard goes on to pummel the Elis, 45-7.

Harvard Stadium undergoes the first major renovation since its 1903 completion. The work is expected to cost at least $7 million (to be covered by The Harvard Campaign). The work includes some new steel support installation, new face-lifting on the walls and colonnade, and new restrooms. The concrete seating is also redone with brand-new, precast concrete.

July 29-Aug. 3, 1984:
A series of Olympic soccer matches takes place at Harvard Stadium as teams from Cameroon, Canada, Chile, France, Iraq, Norway, Qatar, and Yugoslavia compete for four slots in the semifinals of the Los Angeles games. Vice President George Bush speaks during the July 29 opening ceremonies, which include the arrival of the Olympic torch in the hands of former Olympian John Thomas. A collective crowd of nearly 133,000 attends the six stadium games.

Sept. 7, 1986:
The grand finale of the Harvard 350th Celebration takes place before some 27,000 spectators in Harvard Stadium, tricked out with stage and giant video screens in the horseshoe bend for an extravaganza featuring the Boston Pops, recorded greetings from alumni the world over, student performances (including a Hasty Pudding kick-line), and Grucci fireworks. Walter Cronkite emcees the show.

The Boston Society of Civil Engineers designates Harvard Stadium as a Massachusetts Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Nov. 18, 1990:
In the third quarter of “the Game,” M.I.T. students drape an “MIT”-emblazoned banner over the goal post crossbar by way of rocket. The next day, a Boston Herald headline reads: “Tech pranksters steal the show.”

June 22, 1991:
Tokyo’s rival Waseda and Keio universities play the first Japanese collegiate football game on American soil at the stadium. Keio University, trained by Harvard coach Joe Restic, beats the Yale-led Waseda team, 21-19.

Quarterback Neil Rose ’03 and wide receiver Carl Morris ’03 guide the Crimson to their first undefeated, untied season in 88 years. Harvard’s home halftime room, newly updated, may have played a role.

For the second time in the past three years, the football team is off to a 5-0 start.

– Written by Andrew Brooks and Marvin Hightower