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January 26, 2022

How Millrose Games Got Its Name: A Brief History

In 1908, the employees of the John Wanamaker Department Stores formed an athletic association affectionately named for their very rich boss’s country home, “Millrose.” (Let’s quickly acknowledge that’s a weird method of coming up with a track club moniker.)

Pictured above is the wooden track where the group initially hosted twilight meets on the roof of their warehouse. Eventually, the Millrose Athletic Association’s biggest annual meet became so popular that it could no longer be hosted inside a local armory (spoiler: it’d return to a different one about a century later) and in 1914 moved to Madison Square Garden. At the time it was not The World’s Most Famous Arena that we know today, but an older location, eight blocks further south and several more further east.

From 1916 to 1925, the race that would ultimately become the famed Wanamaker Mile in 1926 was actually 1.5 miles long. From 1926 on it’s been an absolute barn-burner, regardless of the length and surface of the track. In 2012, the event moved from the 160-yard track above Penn Station and relocated uptown to the much faster 200m oval at The Armory. While this news was initially met with nostalgic resistance, over the last decade the event has experienced a renaissance, led by fast times and the excitement of a packed arena — toward the end of its tenure at the Garden, the Millrose crowds grew increasingly skimpy.

Some changes though haven’t received much attention. Like at the Coogans after-party in 2017 when Amy Gregorek asked meet director Ray Flynn why the national anthem isn’t played before the women’s Wanamaker Mile. Her husband Johnny was still invited back to race despite this inquiry and now the women hear the Star-Spangled Banner, as well. Although it has taken many forms in its long history — it is still Millrose — and it outlived Wanamaker’s stores, which all went out of business long before Amazon.

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