What is the history of the Stanley Cup (the actual trophy)?

The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports, and it's been around for more than a century, but what is its history?

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

There is so much about hockey that stands out from the other sports. Playing on ice over a field or court makes this one of the fastest sports in existence. While all sports have their traditions, the playoff handshake and the playoff beard are two of the best. The playoffs might be the most intense atmosphere in North American entertainment. However, the one thing that makes the NHL stand out the most is the trophy given out at the end of the season.

The Stanley Cup is gorgeous. It's honestly just a beautiful trophy. The trophy for the World Series winner is just a bunch of flags, and it feels like an afterthought. The World Cup trophy is thin and small, which is fine since a guy like Lionel Messi can hold it in his hand, but it ends up looking like a Shake-a-Weight when people hold it. Meanwhile, the Lombardi Trophy is probably the coolest of the small trophies, but it's just a football on a stand.

The Stanley Cup is this giant silver prize that stands the test of time. It was originally awarded in 1892. That's right, the Cup was created more than 130 years ago. It's the oldest trophy given to athletes in North America. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the trophy was first given to the championship hockey club of the Dominion of Canada. It was purchased by Frederick Arthur Stanley, Lord Stanley of Preston and son of the Earl of Derby for the equivalent of $50.

The first-ever winner of the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. This was what was called the "Challenge Cup" era. Teams could challenge the champion for the Cup, but it was more often the winner of the playoff won the Cup. Teams would put their team name and year won on the first ring of the Cup, the only ring at the time. Some teams didn't add their name because they would have had to pay for it.

The Cup added a second ring in 1909. A year later, the National Hockey Association took possession of the Stanley Cup. The NHA disbanded in 1917, and the winner of the Stanley Cup would be given after the champions of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Western Canada Hockey League, and the newly created National Hockey League faced each other. The winner would become the Stanley Cup Champions.

It took until 1926 for the Cup to become the sole property of the National Hockey League. This is the only professional sports trophy where the name of every player on the team is inscribed. So, sometimes, they run out of room, and the rings have to be added. That caused an issue for a while as the Cup grew increasingly high. It was once called a "stovepipe" as it resembled stoves of the era. Eventually, it was redesigned in 1948 as the rings became too much and the Cup needed to stay a sane size.

Twenty-six different teams have won the Stanley Cup. Five of those teams don't even exist anymore. The Montreal Canadiens have won the Cup the most, lifting it 23 times. However, no Canadian team has won the Cup since they last did it in 1993. American teams have dominated the field for the past 30 years.

The Cup is iconic for a reason. It has its own handler, and on the night the trophy is on the line, it's huge that it is in attendance. The history of the Cup will only grow with every player that drinks out of it or every family that makes it the world's most expensive cereal bowl. The Cup has been to movies, in pools, had babies in the top, and can probably tell more stories than a publicist. We love the Cup, and we can't wait to see who raises it this season.


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