It’s National Coffee Day, a day where a lot of us pay tribute to the drink that gives us that pick-me-up first thing in the morning.

It was 88 years ago when coffee got some Olympic athletes moving, but not from drinking the coffee.

This is the story of how Team Brazil got to the Olympic Games by selling coffee.


In 1932, the Olympic Games host city was Los Angeles, only with the Great Depression on, many countries sent fewer athletes than usual, to cut costs.

Several countries only had one athlete representing them at the Games that year.

But Brazil wanted to send a full complement of competitors, even though they didn’t have any money set aside for their travel.

Instead, the country sent the athletes, 68 men and one woman, on a ship with 50,000 pounds of the country’s top cash crop – coffee – and instructions to sell the beans along the way to cover their fares.

The results were, like an expertly prepared iced mocha, mixed.

Yes, some people bought beans, but demand was not great, owing to the Depression.

And the price of coffee had been falling.

Some growers were just giving their crops away, or destroying them, so they wouldn’t have to sell at a loss.

By the time their ship made it to Los Angeles, the team had $24, and the U.S. was charging a dollar a person to enter the country.

The coaches chose the 24 athletes they thought had the best chances of success and paid for them; a few more eventually got to the Games, but some of the athletes had to stay on the ship.

Unfortunately, after all that, Team Brazil didn’t win any medals at the Games.

Their most memorable performance was when the water polo team picked a fight with a referee, and their trip home to Brazil was even more difficult than the one to Los Angeles.

But few athletes have ever tried harder to get to the Olympics than Team Brazil 1932, a team that lived by a principle many of us live by today: when in doubt, turn to coffee.

Coffee fans should probably make plans to visit Bedford, Pennsylvania, home to a building from the 1920s shaped like a coffee pot.

Originally it was a luncheonette, and now it’s a reminder that we just don’t have as many buildings shaped like drinks as we probably should.

How about an glass office building shaped like a French press?

Brazilian Athletes Perked Up The 1932 Games With Their Coffee Caper (Sports Illustrated)

Coffee Pot-Shaped Building (Roadside America)

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Photo by Cheryl Foong via Flickr/Creative Commons