Jess McMahon

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Jess McMahon : biography

May 26, 1882 – November 21, 1954

Roderick James "Jess" McMahon (May 26, 1882 – November 22, 1954) was an American professional wrestling and professional boxing promoter, and the patriarch of the McMahon family. McMahon was the co-founder of the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, along with Toots Mondt.

Personal life

Roderick married a young New York woman named Rose E. Davis (b. 1891), who was of Irish descent, and together they had three children, Vincent J. McMahon, Roderick Jr., and a daughter named Dorothy. His grandson, Vincent K. McMahon, currently runs WWE. Jess’s great-granddaughter Stephanie McMahon also works for the company. His great-grandson Shane McMahon also worked for the company before ending his 20 year stint in 2010. His great-great-grandson, Declan James McMahon was seen at the opening of WrestleMania XX.

Early life

Roderick James McMahon was born May 26, 1882, to hotel owners Roderick (b. 1844) and Elizabeth McMahon (b. 1846). His parents had recently moved from Ireland to New York City. He and his siblings (Lauretta [b.1876]), Catharine (b. 1878) and Edward (b. 1880) attended Manhattan College. Roderick graduated with a commercial diploma at the age of 17. The death of their father led to the two brothers taking jobs as bank clerks and the two sisters marrying prominent businessmen. The McMahon brothers showed a higher interest in sports than in a banking career.


By 1909, the McMahon brothers were managing partners of the Olympic Athletic Club and bookers at the Empire and St. Nichols Athletic Clubs, located in Harlem. Facing a loss of public interest in boxing, the two McMahons overcame obstacles to appease the public with high quality fights. They expanded their affairs in 1911, founding the New York Lincoln Giants, a black baseball team, which played at Olympic Field in Harlem. With a team that included five of the best black players in the nation (who the McMahons recruited away from teams in Chicago and Philadelphia), the Lincoln Giants dominated black and white opponents for three seasons. In 1914, financial difficulties forced them to sell the team; however, they retained the contracts of many of the players, and for three more years they operated another team, the Lincoln Stars, using Lenox Oval on 145th Street as a home field.Stephen Robertson, , Digital Harlem Blog, July 27, 2011, accessed August 23, 2011 Touring with the squad, McMahon and his brother ventured to Havana, Cuba, in 1915, where they co-promoted the World Boxing Association 45-round fight between Jess Willard and then-champion Jack Johnson.

In the 1930s, the McMahons operated the Commonwealth Casino, on East 135th Street in Harlem. Boxing was the primary attraction. The McMahons booked black fighters to cater to Harlem’s growing black population; fights between blacks and whites drew the largest, racially-mixed crowds. In 1922, they established a black professional basketball team, the Commonwealth Big 5, to try to attract patrons to the casino. For two years, the team defeated black and white opponents, including Harlem’s other black professional team, the Rens. Sportswriters considered the Big 5 the best black team in the nation, although they could not defeat the dominant white team of the time, the Original Celtics. Despite their success, the Big 5 did not attract large crowds, and the McMahons shut the team down after the 1923/1924 season, leaving the Rens to become the dominant black team of the 1920s and 1930s.Stephen Robertson, , Digital Harlem Blog, June 3, 2011, accessed August 23, 2011

After 1915, Jess anchored in Long Island, where he became the first McMahon to promote professional wrestling, at the Freeport Municipal Stadium. The wrestling wars led McMahon to ally himself with another independent faction, captained by Carlos Louis Henriquez. Together they booked the Coney Island and Brooklyn Sport Stadiums, with Carlos being the main fan favorite. The formation of "the Trust" calmed New York territory enough to allow McMahon access to a larger pool of wrestlers. Among those wrestlers were Jim Browning, Hans Kampfer, Mike Romano and Everette Marshall. By 1937, wrestling’s popularity was waning. However, while most bookers left the city for fresher ground, Jess dug in for the long haul. His contacts allowed him to freely trade wrestlers with promoters in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut.

A perpetual force in the Northeastern sportsworld, McMahon may be more remembered for his spell as matchmaker at the Garden than for his 20 years as a wrestling promoter. On November 22, 1954, as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage, Jess died at a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Upon Jess’s death, his second son, Vincent J. McMahon took over the business, eventually creating the World Wide Wrestling Federation, known today as World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE.