Samuel “Sam” Berger

Samuel “Sam” Berger

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Death 23 Feb 1925 (aged 41)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Burial Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA
Plot Plot E, Sec. 6, Lot N 4, Row 2
Memorial ID 127248319 · View Source
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Olympic Gold Medalist Heavyweight Boxer

Sam Berger was the first Olympic heavyweight gold medalist in boxing history.

Berger, born in Chicago, was one of ten children born to Polish immigrants. His father Rueben, a cigar merchant, moved the family to San Francisco about 1896. Berger took up boxing and became a decorated amateur; fighting out of San Francisco's Olympic Boxing Club.

In 1901, he won the Pacific middleweight amateur crown and won the heavyweight version in 1902. Berger won virtually all of his amateur bouts by KO.

In 1902, the heavyweight was professionalized by the Amateur Athletic Union for boxing with Bob Fitzsimmons in the play the "Honest Blacksmith." Berger claimed he was employed as an actor and that he would never have accepted the position had not the rep of the union told him he was within their rules. On November 16, 1903, the Olympic Club officials and those of the Pacific Athletic Assoc. joined in asking that Berger be restored to amateur status. Berger's appeal was granted.

In January 1904, Berger and many other amateur boxers were suspended for taking part in an exhibition given by the Lincoln Club. Berger was considered the "principal offender" as he was given $1,000 by the promoters of the club. Berger was soon exonerated as the association could not prove he received money for the exhibition fights.

In April 1904, efforts were made to match Berger with Kid McCoy, but Berger refused all offers, saying he was not ready to fight as a professional.

The 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri was the first time boxing was featured in the modern Olympics. Only American boxers took part in the competition and Berger proved superior in the heavyweight division. Weighing in at 182 pounds, the 6'2" boxer earned the gold medal. An article stated Berger's "work was particularly clean, and he defeated his opponents one after another with the greatest of ease."

Berger finally turned professional boxer, immediately after the games and in February, 1905, he officially resigned from the Olympic Club. His promising professional career didn't last that long.

On Halloween 1906, Berger was walloped by Al Kaufmann. The scheduled 20 round fight was stopped in the tenth when Berger's seconds threw up the sponge. That loss ended Sam Berger's career as a boxer.

Berger stayed close to the sport of boxing and was forever a fan. He was a promoter for a good number of years, an official referee on occasion, and sparring partner and manager for some, such as Jim Jeffries. He toured the country with Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons, appearing in boxing exhibitions.

He also wrote boxing-match sports reporting articles for the San Francisco Call.

He returned to the Olympic Club and headed up sports programs there.

Berger also ran a clothing store in San Francisco.

He had been in ill health for about a year before he passed at the age of 41. The day after, thousands of people paid respect to the boxing legend with a moment of silence at a boxing match in San Francisco. His obituary . . . "with the passing of Berger one of the most interesting men of the 'old days' in sports has faded from the picture... those who knew him best say that this was one of his great characteristics, that he never forgot a friend. In his alter days of marked prosperity those who had known him in former times, "the ham and eggers," could always claim his attention...."

He was married to Etta Friedman Berger.

Berger was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.

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Article quoted Los Angeles Herald November, 1908.... Sam Berger, the handsomest pugilist (except Attell) in the business, and a promoter of individual supremacy contests in Frisco, as well as a haberdasher and outfitter to his majesty Hen Berry, was so disgusted with the dirty deal Coffroth handed out to Jack Gleason that he came south to attend the Attell-Welsh fight instead of going to the Papke-Ketchel argument. Berger believes in fair play in all things, and that accounts for his popularity with the western sporting element. If there were a few more like Berger and Gleason in the northern game, and fewer of the Coffroths, the sport would live a long time beyond the date when it will be knocked out. Sam is an interesting story teller and pulled off many good ones while sitting in Jeffries' cafe last Wednesday afternoon. He says that although he has retired from the heavyweight contention forever, Jeff actually paled when he appeared in the big fellow's resort.

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Berger was sometimes referred to as "Smiling Sammy."

Berger was the brother-in-law of the great Joe Choynski. His sister Ethel, was married to Joe's brother Herbert Choynski in August, 1906.

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Samuel Berger was initially buried on February 25, 1925 in Plot E, Sec. 6, Lot N 1/2 4, Row 5. He was moved and united with his parents to current location on March 22, 1927.

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information gathered from various sources and written by Colletta

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  • Created by: Colletta
  • Added: 1 Apr 2014
  • Find A Grave Memorial 127248319
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Samuel “Sam” Berger (25 Dec 1883–23 Feb 1925), Find A Grave Memorial no. 127248319, citing Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA ; Maintained by Colletta (contributor 47089656) .