Horseshoe in a boxing glove -- how'd this rumor start?

We’ve all seen old cartoons that take place in a boxing ring, where one of the boxers sneaks a horseshoe into his boxing glove so that his punch will “kick like a horse”. But why was this trope so commonplace?

My brother claimed that back in the olden days, there was a boxer who wore gloves that were vaguely shaped like a horseshoe. The rumor, predictably, spread that this shape was due to a horseshoe actually being in his boxing glove. But I’ve never seen any hint of this rumor outside my brother’s say-so.

Is there any truth to it? How did the “horseshoe in the boxer’s glove” myth get started?

Apparently, Charlie Chaplin used this trope in 1915:

Aren’t all boxing gloves “vaguely shaped like a horseshoe”?

I suspect in real life the suspicion or allegation was that a boxer was adding weight to his gloves, probably in the form of slugs of iron or lead. In comic books this was presented as adding horseshoes, partly for comic effect and partly for clarity - a drawing of a horseshoe is instantly recognisable, whereas a drawing of a malleable lead slug, not so much.

Here’s a clip from the 1915 movie The Champion, where Charlie Chaplin pulls that exact trick!

hmmm, interesting question… why a horseshoe?
(just subscribing in this thread, for the answer)

Instantly recognisable, easily found (back then) heavy object that would fit in a glove… Why NOT a horseshoe?

Instantly recognisable heavy object that would fit in a glove… Why NOT a horseshoe?

It seems like cultural leap… these don’t happen so often… maybe there is a tradition behind this… or a real event…

It seems a fine method of breaking one’s own fingers supposing that was your wish. ( Anyone else remember earnest lectures on not wrapping one’s fingers around the thumb to make a fist back in infants’ school ?)
What’s wrong with good old knuckledusters, the burglar’s friend ?

Why would you assume that? Do you think that slipping on banana peels was a common occurrence? Or if you walk off a cliff, you won’t fall until you look down?

A few years ago I had a pair of sap gloves. The palm, fingers, and thumb had a few ounces of lead shot sewn into them. I never used 'em; I suppose a slap would deliver more of a wallop than the victim expected. I bought them from a nightclub bouncer, and I sold them to a policeman.

There were suspicions that when Jack Dempsey beat Jess Willard for the heavyweight title in 1919 that something was a miss. Willard was much taller and many people thought he would win. Instead Dempsey gave him a fearful beating. So over the years people have speculated that either Dempsey’s gloves were hardened with plaster of paris or he had an iron spike in his glove. But apparently neither theory holds up under close examination. Apparently the only thing is water on the gloves on a hot July day may have hardened them. But people love conspiracy theories.

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Apparently, Charlie Chaplin used this trope in 1915:


Just to be clear, and highlight this cite, it is an 11-min vid on exactly this topic, loading the glove with weight.

But it also starts with Charlie. :slight_smile:

I have to say, this is one I’ve never seen!

I know I’ve seen it several times in old cartoons, but the only SPECIFIC case I recall was a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he ended up in a boxing match that lasted 110 rounds and ended with the other boxer tying him to a railroad track. Earlier in the fight, the other boxer took off his gloves and marched toward Bugs with murderous intent in his eyes. Bugs responded by taking off his own gloves – and when he did so, two horseshoes fell out of each glove. (Not that Bugs would’ve hurt the other boxer even if he DID punch him – one of Bugs Bunny’s schticks is that he has the upper body strength of a wet noodle.)

I think you’re over-thinking that. Horses used to be everywhere. Horseshoes used to be everywhere. The streets of cities were littered with dead horses: the world was littered with worn-out horseshoes. People died by being killed by horses. You couldn’t hear yourself speak on busy city streets because of the noise made by horseshoes on pavement.

Other factoids: The “mechanized” Germans in WWII had the largest horse army the world had ever seen. And a personal favorite: Dr. Seuss’s first book, 1937, “And to think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” … Marco sees nothing “Nothing … but a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street.”

I take the position that the cartoon “kicks like a mule” trophe is inspired by the use of horseshoes as weights, not the other way around.

lots of theories… so, i might as well write a few of my own :wink:

  • maybe people used horseshoes as improvised weapons in bar fights and such
  • maybe there was a real incident reported in the newspapers where a boxer beat someone with a horseshoe
  • maybe clowns used that comical effect, and cinema copied it
  • maybe boxers used horseshoes as weights, when training
  • maybe the Romans, or some other culture, forced slaves to fight each other with horseshoes

The Romans used hipposandals to protect the hooves of horses. It’s far too unwieldy to fight with.

[Citation needed]

Indeed. Pierre Curie was killed when he was run over by a horse-drawn wagon.

Not really relevant, but it’s a piece of trivia I happened to know.:wink: