Dwight Davis


“Really, when you play Davis Cup and you play on a team, it’s something different.
That’s what makes Davis Cup such an unbelievable event.”
—Nikki Pietrangeli

Most sports fans have likely heard of tennis’s annual international team tournament, the Davis Cup. What most fans may not realize is that the Davis Cup is named after a man from St. Louis. Dwight Davis was not only an athlete, but also a lawyer, businessman, and public servant. He left his indelible impression on the state of Missouri, the world of tennis, and society as a whole through his selfless giving.


Dwight Filley Davis was born on July 5, 1879, and grew up in St. Louis. He came from a prominent family where his father attained a considerable amount of wealth from banking and wholesale goods. He graduated from the elite Smith Academy high school in 1895 and then moved on to Harvard, where he excelled as a tennis player. While at Harvard, he teamed up with Holcomb Ward to win the U.S. National Doubles Championship for three straight years. In 1900, he
founded the international competition that came to bear his name, the Davis Cup, and he was the captain of the first U.S. team.


After graduating from Harvard in 1900, he moved back to St. Louis to attend Washington University School of Law. He graduated in 1903 but never set up legal practice. Instead, he used his education and connections to climb the political ladder, most notably as the city’s parks commissioner. At the time, parks were pastoral and less recreational. Davis insisted that the city’s parks were for the people, and the grass there to be walked on.


While serving as parks commissioner, Davis used his position and his passion for tennis to take the game to the masses. In fact, the program that he began was the very first organized effort by any city to build tennis courts for the public. The program was a huge success, which built Davis’s reputation as a strong civic leader and a man who could get things done. Most of St. Louis’s city parks now have tennis courts. The markee courts are in Forest Park, where the tennis center is named in Davis’s honor.

The Davis Cup

Davis also went on to serve as the secretary of war after World War I until 1929, as the governor general of the Philippines until 1932, and as a major general in the U.S. Army during World War II. Despite his high-profile roles in both city and national government, Davis will forever be known for his contribution to tennis as the namesake of the Davis Cup.


*His mother was the daughter of St. Louis mayor Oliver Dwight Filley.

*Davis was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1956.

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