Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James Naismith Collection, 1893-1962

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, March 2012

Summary Information
Title: James Naismith collection
Creator: Diedrich, D. N. (Duane Norman)
Inclusive dates: 1893-1962
Bulk dates: 1917-1961
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
This collection contains correspondence, speeches, ephemera, and photographs related to James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Naismith's incoming correspondence includes letters about the history of basketball in locations across Canada and the United States, and his typed speech notes primarily concern the relationship between athletics, morality, and religion.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by D. N. Diedrich, 1998-2010. M-4028, M-4069.3, M-4121.1, M-4124.5, M-4629.1-6, M-4632.8, M-4673.1, M-4833.3.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

James Naismith Collection, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Speech Notes and Essays
  • Series III: Photographs and Ephemera


James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario, on November 6, 1861, the son of John Naismith and Margaret Young. He graduated from McGill University in 1887, and studied theology until 1890, when he began training as a physical educator with the YMCA. While at the YMCA's training facility in Springfield, Massachusetts, he invented the game of basketball, intended to occupy the winter athletics lull between football and baseball seasons. The first basketball game was played in December 1891, and the sport quickly grew in popularity and developed a standard set of rules. Naismith remained in Massachusetts until he moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1895. After receiving his medical degree from Gross Medical School in 1898, Naismith became the instructor of physical education at the University of Kansas, a position he held until his retirement in 1937. Throughout his time there, he actively encouraged students to take an interest in their health. He fostered an intramural sports program at the university and coached local high school basketball teams. Naismith became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1916 and served as a chaplain for the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I. His religious upbringing and theological training contributed to a lifelong interest in the relationship between athletics and morality, and he maintained an interest in the history of basketball until the end of his life, participating on several basketball rules committees. He married Maude Evelyn Sherman (d. 1937) in 1894, and they had five children. He married Florence Mae Kincaid in 1939, shortly before his death. James Naismith died on November 28, 1939.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence, speeches, ephemera, and photographs related to James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Naismith's incoming correspondence includes letters about the history of basketball in locations across Canada and the United States, and his typed speech notes primarily concern the relationship between athletics, morality, and religion.

The Correspondence series contains 44 letters, including 27 Naismith received about the history of basketball and the implementation of basketball programs. Between 1917 and 1939, Naismith collected responses to his inquiries about basketball from Canada, Uruguay, and universities within the United States. These letters often reported the dates of the first recorded local basketball games, and some described early equipment and rules. A letter from Edmonton, Alberta (October 15, 1929) concerned the development of women's basketball, and one from Osage City High School stated that theirs was the first high school in Kansas to have a basketball team (March 22, 1932). Some correspondents inquired about Naismith's experiences with the game, shared their own experiences, or discussed rule changes.

Letters written after Naismith's death are commemorative, including one signed by members of the Wheelchair Bulldozers, written on stationery bearing the team's logo (November 6, 1948). Additionally, Raymond Kaighn, the last surviving member of Naismith's first basketball team, wrote 8 letters to Kenneth Crouch between April 16, 1958, and July 28, 1962, reminiscing about his experiences and extolling Naismith's contribution to the world of sports. The collection also holds four letters Naismith wrote, providing his thoughts on the center jump ball rule (January 7, 1930), requesting information on Canadian basketball (with two responses, December 15, 1930), describing the game around the time of its invention in 1891 (February 4, 1939), and addressing his wife about personal matters (undated).

The Speech Notes and Essays series contains 7 typed speeches delivered by Naismith, with his manuscript annotations. The speeches pertain to the historical and contemporary relationship between athletic activities, morality, and religion, such as the role of athletic and physical education in moral and ethical development. Naismith lamented the commercialization of basketball and discussed the effects of the radio on the presidential election of 1928 (October 1928). One undated essay relates to sexual immorality among soldiers in the United States military.

Photographs and Ephemera include one photograph each of James Naismith and Raymond Kaighn, a souvenir program, a magazine article, and an invitation.

An inventory of items in the final two series appears in the Detailed Box and Folder listing below.

Subject Terms

    • Basketball--Equipment and supplies.
    • Basketball for women.
    • Basketball--History.
    • Basketball--Rules.
    • Basketball--United States--History.
    • Physical education and training--Moral and ethical aspects.
    • Physical education and training--Religious aspects.
    • Physical education and training--United States.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1928.
    • Soldiers--United States--Sexual behavior.
    • Sports--Moral and ethical aspects.
    • Sports--Religious aspects.
    • Sports--United States--History--20th century.
    • Sports--United States--Marketing.
    • Wheelchair basketball.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Kaighn, Raymond.
    • Naismith, James, 1861-1939.
    • Kaighn, Raymond.
    • Naismith, James, 1861-1939.
    Genre Terms:
    • Essays.
    • Invitations.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Photographs.
    • Programs (documents)
    • Signatures (names)
    • Speeches.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1  
     December 24, 1899-July 28, 1962
    Speech Notes and Essays [series]
    Box   1  
    "Religious intolerance," delivered at the Saturday Night Club,  October 1928 (9 pages)
    "Basketball,"  [1932?] (8 pages)
    "Educational Poli[c]ies and Falacies,"  undated (15 pages)
    "Athletics and Religion," with carbon copy,  undated (6 pages)
    "The Development of Character Through Athletics,"  undated (13 pages)
    Untitled, on physical education and sports in the church,  undated (2 pages)
    Untitled, on religion and immorality in the military,  undated (6 pages)
    Photographs, Ephemera, and Miscellaneous [series]
    Box   1  
    James Naismith, "Philosophical Basis of the Physical Work," Young Men's Era,  October 26, 1893
    Invitation card for "Dr. James Naismith Basketball Banquet," signed on verso by James Naismith. Iron Mountain, Michigan,  March 23, 1938
    Box   1  
    Souvenir program from "Basketball Commemoration Day" Springfield, Massachusetts. Signed by Raymond Kaighn and Edward Hickox,  November 6, 1961
    Box   1  
    Photograph of Raymond Kaighn, signed,  [1958]
    Box   1  
    Photograph of Dr. James Naismith with basketball,  undated
    Box   1  
    James Naismith autograph card, "James Naismith Inventor of Basketball Lawrence Kans,"  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Baker, William J. "Naismith, James." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, 2000.