Mint Julep Glasses
The history of the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep began with unremarkable origins, as the first 1938 glasses were actually water glasses. According to racetrack folklore, the glasses were so popular that they disappeared from the tables in the track’s dining rooms. Track management decided to charge dining room patrons an extra .25 cents if they wanted to keep the glasses.
Since its 1938 inception, the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Glass has grown in popularity and is often viewed as the leading Kentucky Derby collectible. As with many items, the value of a Kentucky Derby glass is based in its rarity. From 1938 through 1952 less than 100,000 Kentucky Derby glasses were annually produced. In 1966, the production numbers rose to 250,000, shortly followed by an increase to 400,000 for the 100th running of the race in 1974. In 1985 the production run hit to 500,000 and today it stands at 700,000.
Interestingly enough, until 1974, only Churchill Downs sold Derby glasses, making the limited supply the perfect collectible. After 1974, retail outlets began selling the glasses in honor of the 100th Derby.
In 1939, the Libbey Glass Company of Toledo, Ohio was contracted to create the glasses in color, which made them more attractive for mint julep sales. Reportedly the initial sales increased threefold. Since that time, Libbey of Toledo, Ohio has manufactured nearly all of the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glasses.
Over the years some modifications have occurred. In 1940-1941, over apparent concern for broken glass found on the racetrack grounds, aluminum tumblers were employed. During the war years 1942-1943-1944, aluminum was at a premium, as a replacement glass, the Beetleware Company produced a ceramic-type tumbler of various colors.
There have been many different designs on the glasses over the years, generally the Twin Spires, the name Kentucky Derby and racehorses have been featured. The Kentucky Oaks received its first ever glass in 2005 as the Libbey Company produced a limited order of 7,200. Today this roll has now grown to 50,000.
Sterling Silver Julep Cups
Churchill Downs President Bill Corum introduced the Sterling Silver julep cups in 1951. The idea of a sterling silver julep cup was an idea of Col. Matt Winn, Corum’s predecessor who died in 1949. Winn had discussed with Downs’s officials his feeling that there should be another official, useful souvenir of the Kentucky Derby.
The cups feature a small horseshoe and they hold 12 fluid ounces. The julep cup plays an important role in Kentucky Derby folklore. Traditionally, the governor of Kentucky salutes the victorious Derby owner with a toast at the fashionable Winner’s Party following the race.
Kentucky Derby Trophy
The Kentucky Derby Gold Cup is a gold trophy, with a rich history. The trophy is awarded to the winning horse’s owner every year; it is made from a combination of 20 and 14 carat gold and weighs more than 100 ounces. Smaller sterling versions are also presented to the winning trainer, jockey and breeder.
The first idea of a Kentucky Derby “trophy” was not addressed until 1922, when a six-piece gold buffet service was awarded to Ben Block, (the owner of the winning horse Morvich). Included in this service was a pair of candlesticks and a loving cup. In 1923, when Zev won the Derby, his owners were presented with the first version of the trophy. Black Gold, the 1924 winner, was presented with the “Golden Jubilee Trophy”, which is the current design standard of the award given to the horse owner today.
The Kentucky Derby Gold Cup is one of the few solid gold trophies still awarded in any American sporting event. It is created from a brick of 14 carat gold, adorned with 20 carat gold accents. This trophy takes more than three months to produce. Over the past 80 years, there have been slight variations to the design: diamonds were added to the horseshoe to celebrate the 75th running with Ponder. For the 125th trophy, rubies, diamonds and emeralds were added. 1999 also marked the year that the horseshoe, which adorns the front of the trophy, was also changed from facing downwards to upwards to signify good luck.
"My Old Kentucky Home"
One of the most affecting experiences in the world of sports is the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses assemble on the track just moments before the start of the Kentucky Derby.
No one can point to a definitive year that the Stephen Foster ballad became a tradition, but it was fist mentioned in The Courier-Journal in the May 8, 1921 edition. Since 1936, barring a few exceptions “My Old Kentucky Home” has annually been performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band. Churchill Downs honors the famed composer with the Stephen Foster Handicap which was created as a 1 1/8 mile race for 3-year olds in 1982.
For anyone attending the Derby, especially a Kentuckian, the song is a point of pride and many Louisvillians know the tune by heart.
Now that we have explained some of the traditions associated with the Kentucky Derby, let’s talk about the progression of American fashion and how major events shaped the look of the decades beginning with the late nineteenth century. Historical Kentucky Derby facts are located at the bottom of each page and we can’t wait for you to get started.
Derby Fashion: A Brief History
The spectacular female fashion often seen at the Kentucky Derby is not solely a product of modern times; rather, opulent feminized dress has played a large role in the history of the Kentucky Derby. What Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., (the founding father of the Kentucky Derby), envisioned was a racing environment that would feel comfortable and luxurious, an event that would remind people of European horse racing. For a well-to-do late nineteenth and early twentieth century woman, a day at Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day was an opportunity to be seen in the latest of fashions. A journalist from a 1901 Courier Journal stated, "The seats in the grandstand were filled with gaily dressed women and men. The mass of green, pink, red, yellow, blue, all the colors of the rainbow, blending into one harmonious whole was as beautiful a sight as His Eminence in the lead."
What would these women have worn? Perhaps surprising to some, local Louisville women would have had the opportunity to purchase dresses and accessories from a talented group of seamstresses. The dresses in the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century would have emphasized a slimmer bustled silhouette than those of years past. The length of these dresses would have assuredly been long, covering the ankles. Due to the fact that the Kentucky Derby is in the spring, silks would have been a good, warm weather choice. Gloves, hat, and perhaps a parasol were also appropriate choices as well.
As societal rules softened in the twentieth century, what was deemed appropriate dress transformed. In the 1920s, women at the Derby could be seen wearing a dress or perhaps a more modern suit, complete with a jacket. Some of the1920s jackets were roomy and accommodating, others were fitted. The hat and gloves were still very much in fashion. The 1930s and 1940s followed in the same vein, with option of a dress or suit; in fact, in the 1930s and 1940s the formal suit seemed to be more popular than the dress.
The 1950s ushered in a renewed prosperity to postwar America and clothing styles reflected that. At the Kentucky Derby, one would have most likely viewed well-dressed women in chic suits, with skirts that were either fitted to the body or billowed outward with the assistance of a petticoat. Again, gloves and hats were still quite popular and still a part of a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. The rules that guided so much of twentieth century culture seemed to be thrown out the window in the mid-to late 1960s. Though the Derby was still viewed as a most respectable event and women continued to dress as such, a change had occurred. Now that Millionaire’s Row had opened, society women wore increasingly louder hats and took pride and enjoyment in selecting one. This trend of bigger, more spectacular hats might have developed due to the fact that while society was loosening its grip on the hat and glove formality, the Kentucky Derby offered women a place to continue the old traditions. Patterns and prints were also brighter, and hemlines defiantly were raised, yielding a much different look than years before.
In the 1970s and 1980s was a return to the longer skirt, while the same casual attitude of the 1960s was still in place. From the 1990s to today, the dress at the Derby is slowing replacing the suit, especially with younger women. While gloves are out of fashion, a hat never is, and they tend to get wilder and more expensive every year. The style of the infield today is defiantly relaxed, with women wearing cool sundresses, cotton skirts, or more frequently shorts. Still, the Kentucky Derby has earned its reputation as a fashion playground and here at the museum we would like to capture its dynamic spirit.