42 Facts About Jackie Robinson

Keystone, Getty Images
Keystone, Getty Images

On January 31, 1919, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. Twenty-eight years later, on April 15, 1947, he broke the baseball color line and became the first African American to play on a major sports team. Here are 42 facts to celebrate the legendary athlete.

1. Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia but raised in California.

Jack "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Shortly after his birth, his family moved and settled in Pasadena, California.

2. Jackie Robinson was named after Teddy Roosevelt.

Oval shaped portrait of a American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) as a young boy sitting on a chair, circa 1925
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.

3. Jackie Robinson was the youngest of five children.

Jackie was the youngest of five children—Edgar, Frank, Matthew “Mack,” and Willa Mae—and a little over a year after his birth, Robinson's mother moved the family to Pasadena, California.

4. In high school, Jackie Robinson played on a team with other future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon.

Robinson attended John Muir High School, where he was placed on the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament All-Star Team with fellow future MLB Hall of Famers Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians.

5. Jackie Robinson was an accomplished tennis player, too.

He was also a successful tennis player, winning the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.

6. Jackie Robinson's brother was a Silver medal-winning Olympic athlete.

Jackie’s brother Mack was an adept athlete and a splendid sprinter. He won a Silver Medal in the 200 meters behind Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

7. Jackie Robinson served in the Army during World War II.

In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to a segregated Army Cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas.

8. Jackie Robinson was stationed with boxing champion Joe Louis during World War II.

While in the Army, Robinson became friends with boxing champion Joe Louis when the heavyweight, who was stationed at Fort Riley at the time, used his celebrity to protest the delayed entry of black soldiers in an Office Candidate School (OCS). As a result, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

9. Jackie Robinson never saw combat during the war because he was arrested and court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of an unsegregated bus.

After an incident where he refused to sit in the back of an unsegregated bus, military police arrested Robinson at the request of a duty officer, who later requested Robinson be court-martialed. At the time of the proceedings, Robinson was prohibited from being deployed overseas to the World War II battlefronts. He never saw combat during the war.

10. Jackie Robinson was eventually given an honorable discharge.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) (Back row, 4th from right), wearing a military uniform, stands with members of his family outside of a house, possibly in Georgia, c. 1942
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robinson was acquitted and then assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, where he worked as an Army athletics coach until he was given an honorable discharge in 1944. During his time at the camp, Robinson was encouraged to tryout for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League.

11. Jackie Robinson played in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game.

In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was paid $400 a month (about $5100 today) to play shortstop and eventually was placed in the Negro League All-Star Game that year.

12. Jackie Robinson married his college sweetheart.

Robinson married Rachel Isum—whom he had met in 1941 during his senior year at UCLA—in 1946. They had their first son, Jackie Robinson Jr., that November. The Robinsons had two more children: a daughter, Sharon, and another son, David.

13. Jackie Robinson played in the Montreal Royals' minor league.

Robinson played Minor League Baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues in 1947.

14. Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) grounds a ball at first place while warming up for an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Ebbets Field, NYC, 1950s
Hulton|Archive/Getty Images

He made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. He became the first African-American baseball player in Major League history.

15. Jackie Robinson was 1947's Rookie of the Year.

He also won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.

16. Jackie Robinson was close friends with Larry Doby, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League.

Jackie Robinson had a close friendship with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League. The two men broke the color barrier in baseball in the same year and would talk to each other on the telephone to share their experiences with racism during the season.

17. Jackie Robinson's Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese was one of his greatest champions.

Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese defended Robinson against violent and nasty racial slurs during his rookie season. Reese famously put his arm around him, a gesture of friendship that wasn't common for Robinson at the time. The moment has since been immortalized in art, statues, and movies.

18. Jackie Robinson hit for the cycle on August 29, 1948.

On August 29, 1948, in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson “hit for the cycle” with a home run, a triple, a double, and then a single in the same game.

19. Jackie Robinson stole a lot of bases.

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 28th August 1949
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Robinson was the National League Batting and Stolen Bases Champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases in 1949.

20. Jackie Robinson was a regular All-Star.

He was also a six-time All-Star between the years 1949 and 1954.

21. Jackie Robinson testified in front of the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1949, Robinson was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was subpoenaed because of comments made about him by prominent African-American actor Paul Robson. At first, Robinson was hesitant to testify, but then was ultimately compelled to do so because he feared not doing so would hurt his baseball career.

22. Jackie Robinson was the National League's MVP in 1949.

The National League’s Most Valuable Player Award went to Robinson in 1949, after his first appearance in the MLB All-Star Game. Robinson later took his team to the World Series, but would lose against the New York Yankees.

23. Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story.

Postage stamp featuring Jackie Robinson
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Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife, Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

24. In the off-season, Jackie Robinson traveled the south on a vaudeville tour.

During the off-season, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-set questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did on his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

25. Jackie Robinson played in six World Series.

Robinson played in six World Series, but only won one in 1955 against the New York Yankees in a seven-game series. Robinson didn’t play in 49 games that season and missed Game 7; Don Hoak played third base in Robinson’s place.

26. Jackie Robinson quit baseball to take a job with Chock Full O' Nuts.

At 37, Robinson retired from Major League Baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Unbeknownst to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson took a position with the American coffee company Chock Full O’ Nuts and agreed to quit baseball.

27. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

Undated photo of US baseball star Jackie Robinson as he signs a then-record contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers
STR/AFP/Getty Images

From 1957 to 1964, Jackie Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

28. Jackie Robinson was a political independent who ended up switching party affiliations in the 1960s.

Robinson was a political independent, but had very conservative views on the Vietnam War. He also supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election against John F. Kennedy, although Robinson admired Kennedy’s stance on civil rights once he was elected. He was later dismayed with Republicans for not supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after became a Democrat.

29. Jackie Robinson was the first African American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Jackie Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. He was the first African American inducted at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and Museum.

30. Jackie RObinson was a towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was always seen as a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

31. Jackie RObinson co-founded Harlem's Freedom National Bank.

In 1964, Robinson co-founded the Freedom National Bank—a black owned and operated bank in Harlem, New York—with businessman Dunbar McLaurin. Robinson was the commercial bank’s first Chairman of the Board. His wife later served as Chairman until 1990 when the bank closed.

32. Jackie Robinson was television's first African-American sports analyst.

Robinson was also the first African-American MLB TV analyst. He broadcasted for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972.

33. The Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson's uniform number in 1972.

Portrait of members of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team pose in the dugout, 1954
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson’s uniform number 42, as well as Sandy Koufax’s number 32 and Roy Campanella’s number 39.

34. Jackie Robinson passed away at the age of 53.

Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53.

35. Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973.

In 1973, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives college scholarships to minorities. The Foundation also preserves the legacy of Jackie Robinson as a baseball player and civil rights pioneer.

36. Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn home was declared a landmark in 1976.

The house in Brooklyn, New York, where Jackie Robinson lived while he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976.

37. There's an asteroid named after Jackie Robinson.

On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

38. Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award given to a civilian for their contributions to world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors—on March 26, 1984.

39. Jackie Robinson also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

More than 20 years after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush also posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate—for his contributions to American history. He became the second baseball player to receive this accolade after Pittsburgh Pirates Right-Fielder Roberto Clemente in 1973.

40. Jackie Robinson's number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You won't see any baseball players wearing the number 42: In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired throughout Major League Baseball. This was the first and only time a jersey number had been retired throughout an entire professional sports league.

41. Jackie Robinson is a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 1999, Robinson was added to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team along with Cal Ripken Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb. Fans chose the final selections from a list compiled of the 100 greatest Major League Baseball players from the past century.

42. April 15 is now Jackie Robinson Day.

April 15, 2004, is now Jackie Robinson Day, and all uniformed players in Major League Baseball wear number 42 on their jerseys to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy to the sport.

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Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.