Polo's Gilded Age Legacy

Date: Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Gilded Age of 1870-1900 was marked by the tumultuous years between the Civil War and the start of the 20th century. The American economy was growing at the fastest rate in its history with immense growth stemming from new inventions, increased industrialization, and the Transcontinental Railroad which led to rapid settlement of the Western side of the United States. These changes brought vast wealth and prosperity to American citizens leading the US to the forefront of the world economy. 

As the economy gained speed from the Industrial Revolution, a new national value of individualism began to arise taking root in art, entertainment, and improving the social issues of the time that the everyday American was experiencing. For the first time in American history, the working and middle class had leisure time built into everyday life. This rise in the form of leisure activities made way for "sport-mania" which included the growth of collegiate and amateur sports. Sporting activities were invented during this time period while others from other origins became popularized like basketball, croquet, tennis, golf, swimming, cycling, and polo.Gilded Age Walkers 

American centers of capitol and wealth during the Gilded Age were the cities of the Northeast, whose inhabitants enjoyed the prosperity of the era, and many afforded seaside escapes for leisure.  Newport was ideally suited to accomodate these intensions. Considered America's royalty, new upper class Americans built stunning mansions in the City by the Sea, several of which can still be viewed and toured today (Rosecliff and The Breakers are among the best). 

During this period in the spring of 1876, one of Newport's most vibrant characters, James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, hosted a select dinner party with a guest list curated to include a dozen gentlemen who would be intrigued by the sport of polo that was not yet known in America but was gaining popularity in England where it already had a strong royal history. Bennett who had previously visited England, had been able to view the game which inspired him to bring it to the shores of Newport for the sporting set of gentlemen to engage in. The game was an instant hit with the buccaneering class of the Gilded Age who were able to embrace the sport fully making it a key component of their annual Newport retreat with fields for play near their summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue. It was there that the first polo club in America was born and where it thrived for the next 50 years. 

Bennett Gilded Age Another key member of the Newport society during the Gilded Age was New York banker Henry A.C. Taylor who among other influential high society members, like the Vanderbilt family, flocked to the Newport countryside for the summer season to escape the busy atmosphere of the port. Gentleman's farms were becoming more popular in the era, including Taylor's Glen Farm which became a landmark of farming and breeding and later the home of polo when the farm more than a century later was transformed into a sporting facility, after the stock market crash and the two world wars had driven America's First Polo Club into inactivity. 

More than a century passed, when in 1991, Dan Keating rehabilitated Glen Farm to its former glory to host the Newport International Polo Series which is embarking on its fourth decade of entertainment in sports. The legacy that Taylor and Bennett have left laid a foundation on which the Newport International Polo Series could take hold, and positively impact the community that has been recreated and the evolution of the sport of polo in the United States and around the world.