Rickard, George Lewis (1871–1929)

By: Brian Hart

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 19, 2012

George Lewis (Tex) Rickard, professional boxing promoter, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on January 2, 1871. When he was four years old his family moved to Sherman, Texas, where they purchased and operated a cattle ranch. The family later moved to Cambridge. Rickard spent his youth working cattle and, after the death of his father in 1881, supported his family in this way. At age twenty-three he was elected city marshall of Henrietta, the Clay county seat. In this position he established a reputation as a tolerant and honest lawman and a superior poker player, two qualities perhaps encouraged by the relative absence of serious crime in the community. While serving as marshal he met and married his first wife, Leona Bittick, but she died at age twenty, shortly after the marriage. Rickard, whose favorite pastime was gambling, moved to Alaska and established a number of gaming houses in the Klondike during the late 1890s. Though he was credited with operating the only "square" game in the Klondike, he accumulated $500,000 in four years; but he lost the fortune through the purchase of worthless gold claims. Following a short period spent as a gambler in California, Rickard moved to Goldfield, in a Nevada mining area, where he operated a gambling establishment.

There he first became involved in the promotion of professional boxing matches. On September 3, 1906, he staged a lightweight title fight in which he offered the unheard-of purse of $30,000. Receipts of over $62,000 ensured his success in this endeavor and encouraged Rickard to take up boxing promotion as his profession. Not until July 4, 1910, however, did he stage a second fight, a heavyweight match between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries, at Reno, Nevada. Rickard offered a purse of $101,000 to the boxers, but still managed to make a profit from the fight. He then abandoned the fight game for some six years. He traveled to various Latin American nations and speculated in the beef market. In this process he made and lost a number of small fortunes. He returned to the United States and to boxing promotion in 1916, when he arranged the heavyweight match between Jess Willard and Frank Moran at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout attracted a gate of $156,000, a new indoor record. Rickard remained heavily involved in fight promotion for the remainder of his life, successfully combining his obvious willingness to take risks with an apparent talent for recognizing and developing the possibilities of a good boxing match to build a fortune. After losing money on a heavyweight title match between Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey at Toledo, Ohio, on July 4, 1919, Rickard promoted a series of five heavyweight bouts-all featuring Dempsey, who became world champion with his victory over Willard-each of which exceeded $1,000,000 in receipts. These matches, staged from 1921 to 1927, included a rematch between Dempsey and Gene Tunney at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, that drew over $2,600,000 in receipts.

Having acquired the original Madison Square Garden, Rickard, with the aid of circus owner John Ringling and others, established the Madison Square Garden Corporation. This arrangement allowed investors to place their money in a corporation dedicated entirely to profitable sporting events. Rickard opened the new Madison Square Garden in December 1925 and acted as director of the facility until his death. In 1926 he married his second wife, Maxine Hodges, at Lewisburg, West Virginia. The couple had one child. Believing that Florida was an area of potential growth and profit, Rickard began investing in the Miami Beach area during the 1920s. He constructed a dog-racing track there. He was engaged in fight promotion in Miami Beach when he died on January 6, 1929, of complications following an appendectomy.

Dictionary of American Biography. New York Times, January 7, 1929. Randy Roberts, Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes (New York: Free Press, 1983). Randy Roberts, Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979). Who Was Who in America, Vol. 4.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Officers
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Boxing and Wrestling)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brian Hart, “Rickard, George Lewis,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rickard-george-lewis.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 19, 2012