One Hundred Years of the Triple Crown: Life in America, Then and Now

In 1919, Sir Barton swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, becoming the first Thoroughbred to do so. At that time, those races carried varying levels of prestige, and there was no special designation for winning all three … but by the time the next horse accomplished the feat, Gallant Fox in 1930, the term “Triple Crown,” already applied for decades in England to honor winners of its three classic races, was being used in the U.S.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first time a horse won the Triple Crown, and after a 37-year span without a series sweep (the longest over the timespan), we’ve been fortunate to witness two recent winners in American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).

To commemorate the centennial, Churchill Downs is holding its second annual “Champions Day” next Tuesday, April 30. In addition to a full racecard, there will be an autograph session with Triple Crown-winning jockeys, trainers, and owners, photo ops for fans with rare Triple Crown memorabilia, and a handicapping seminar.

The differences between 1978, back when Affirmed made history, and 2015 on this planet are many, but thanks to digital media there’s still a lot of cultural crossover between generations – the enduring popularity of Star Wars being the most obvious example.

But what was life like 100 years ago in the United States? Let’s whir up the time machine and travel back to a very, very different time when, unbeknownst to everyone, Sir Barton took the Kentucky Derby by five lengths to inaugurate a tradition that’s become a cornerstone of the sport.

1919: U.S. life expectancy: 54.8 years

2019: U.S. life expectancy: 78.6 years

1919: The 18th amendment is passed, launching the Prohibition Era.

2019: Ten states (plus Washington D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana use, and 33 have legalized medical marijuana use.

1919: Congress approves the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing voting rights to women.

2019: Six (as of April 25) women have announced their candidacy in the Democratic Party for U.S. President.

1919: The Ford Model T reigns as the most popular automobile on the market.

2019: Seven out of the top 10-selling vehicles are trucks and SUVs.

1919: The oldest NFL franchise (that has remained in the same location), the Green Bay Packers, is founded.

2019: NFL generates approximately $15 billion in revenue for 2018 season.

1919: $1,000

2019: $14,694

1919: Undersized comedy movie mogul: Charles Chaplin.

2019: Undersized comedy movie mogul: Kevin Hart.

1919: The growing popularity of feature films ends the nickelodeon era.

2019: The growing popularity of streaming services ends appointment television.

1919: Babe Ruth is sold from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees for $125,000.

2019: Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels signs a new 12-year contract extension worth $430 million.

1919: More from the national pastime: The “Black Sox” scandal rocks the sport as several Chicago White Sox players throw the World Series.

2019: Cheating All-Stars such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Pete Rose find themselves on the outside looking into baseball’s storied Hall of Fame.

1919: Music superstars: Marion Harris and Al Jolson.

2019: Music superstars: Ariana Grande and Drake.

1919: The Algonquin Round Table, an assortment of writers, actors, and bon vivants, meets for the first time in New York to enjoy the pleasures of face-to-face repartee.

2019: People don’t talk, they share pictures on their phones.