Joe Louis, world heavyweight champion, boxing stadium, black background.

The legacy of Joe Louis​​

Strength, heroism, perseverance, sacrifice, patriotism, and inspiration. These are some of the words used to describe the legacy of Joe Louis, one of modern history’s most celebrated world heavyweight champions.

Legend has it that Joe Louis’s Mother gave him a quarter for violin lessons that he instead used to pay for boxing lessons and to compete in The Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournaments. It was her unintentional investment that led Joe to become the longest-reigning world heavyweight champion and America’s first African-American national hero.

Joseph Louis Barrow was born in Alabama on May 13, 1914. Grandson of slaves, he had a modest living. He was the seventh of eight children. In 1926, the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he discovered boxing.

He started competing in the amateur circuit in 1932. He dropped the surname Barrow, apparently to prevent his mother from finding out. In 1934 he won Detroit’s Golden Gloves light-heavyweight title. As an amateur, he won 50 of 54 matches, 43 of them by knockout.

Joe Louis, nickname “The Brown Bomber,” was remarkable for his powerful punches and speed. In his first year as a professional, he defeated two former heavyweight champions: Primo Carnera and Max Baer. In 1937 he became world heavyweight boxing champion, knocking out James J. Braddock. He held the title for 12 years (1937-1949), the longest-reigning world heavyweight champion ever. In total, he won 66 matches out of 69 as a professional – 52 victories by knockouts. He won 27 fights in a row – 23 by knockouts.

Joe Louis, world heavyweight champion, boxing stadium, black background.

The legacy of Joe Louis​

Strength, heroism, perseverance, sacrifice, patriotism, and inspiration. These are some of the words used to describe the legacy of Joe Louis, one of modern history’s most celebrated world heavyweight champions.

Legend has it that Joe Louis’s Mother gave him a quarter for violin lessons that he instead used to pay for boxing lessons and to compete in The Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournaments. It was her unintentional investment that led Joe to become the longest-reigning world heavyweight champion and America’s first African-American national hero.

Joseph Louis Barrow was born in Alabama on May 13, 1914. Grandson of slaves, he had a modest living. He was the seventh of eight children. In 1926, the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he discovered boxing.

He started competing in the amateur circuit in 1932. He dropped the surname Barrow, apparently to prevent his mother from finding out. In 1934 he won Detroit’s Golden Gloves light-heavyweight title. As an amateur, he won 50 of 54 matches, 43 of them by knockout.

Joe Louis, nickname “The Brown Bomber,” was remarkable for his powerful punches and speed. In his first year as a professional, he defeated two former heavyweight champions: Primo Carnera and Max Baer. In 1937 he became world heavyweight boxing champion, knocking out James J. Braddock. He held the title for 12 years (1937-1949), the longest-reigning world heavyweight champion ever. In total, he won 66 matches out of 69 as a professional – 52 victories by knockouts. He won 27 fights in a row – 23 by knockouts.

Joe Louis Bourbon - Joe Louis, world heavyweight champion, during exhibition fight for USA troops

A true patriot​

Joe Louis’s first loss as a professional was against the German champion Max Schmeling, in 1936.  Two years later, they had a rematch. Joe knocked Schmeling out during the first round, in two minutes and four seconds in front of over 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. That was more than an amazing comeback history. Schmeling himself wasn’t Nazi, but he was promoted by Nazi officials as proof of the doctrine of Aryan superiority. The American media described Joe’s victory as a symbolic victory of democracy over fascism and he became a national hero.

Joe Louis was at his peak when enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight World War II, in 1942. While serving, he performed almost 100 boxing exhibitions for over two million military members to elevate the troops’ morale. He also donated about $100,000 to Army and Navy relief societies.

Joe Louis Bourbon - Joe Louis's Congressional Gold Medal, 1982

Retirement, ventures and awards​

Joe Louis retired from boxing in 1949. However, he came back to the ring for ten more fights until 1951. He won eight of those fights.

In 1952, Joe cofounded “Joe Louis Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” and launched “Joe Louis champion of them all.

Joe was inducted into The Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Joe Louis passed away in 1981 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors thanks to an exception granted by President Ronald Reagan. One of the pallbearers at his funeral was Schmeling.

He was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1982.

In 1986 a memorial was dedicated to Joe Louis in Detroit. A 24-foot-long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high pyramidal framework executed by Robert Graham, at Jefferson Avenue and Woodward. It represents the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring.

In 1993 he was the first boxer to appear on a commemorative postage stamp.

Joe Louis Bourbon - Joe Louis, world heavyweight champion, during exhibition fight for USA troops

A true patriot​

Joe Louis’s first loss as a professional was against the German champion Max Schmeling, in 1936.  Two years later, they had a rematch. Joe knocked Schmeling out during the first round, in two minutes and four seconds in front of over 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. That was more than an amazing comeback history. Schmeling himself wasn’t Nazi, but he was promoted by Nazi officials as proof of the doctrine of Aryan superiority. The American media described Joe’s victory as a symbolic victory of democracy over fascism and he became a national hero.

Joe Louis was at his peak when enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight World War II, in 1942. While serving, he performed almost 100 boxing exhibitions for over two million military members to elevate the troops’ morale. He also donated about $100,000 to Army and Navy relief societies.

Joe Louis Bourbon - Joe Louis's Congressional Gold Medal, 1982

Retirement, ventures and awards

Joe Louis retired from boxing in 1949. However, he came back to the ring for ten more fights until 1951. He won eight of those fights.

In 1952, Joe cofounded “Joe Louis Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” and launched “Joe Louis champion of them all.

Joe was inducted into The Ring Magazine Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Joe Louis passed away in 1981 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors thanks to an exception granted by President Ronald Reagan. One of the pallbearers at his funeral was Schmeling.

He was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1982.

In 1986 a memorial was dedicated to Joe Louis in Detroit. A 24-foot-long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high pyramidal framework executed by Robert Graham, at Jefferson Avenue and Woodward. It represents the power of his punch both inside and outside the ring.

In 1993 he was the first boxer to appear on a commemorative postage stamp.

Watch the video "A comeback story"