Copywriter Julian Koenig worked on several iconic advertising campaigns and came up with the name for Earth Day during his long career on Madison Avenue, but long before he worked on Volkswagen’s “Think Small” and “Lemon” campaigns or Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” Koenig claims to have invented thumb wrestling while working as a camp counselor in the 1930s.
Koenig made the claim in an interview for This American Life in 2009 that was rebroadcast on Sept. 19, 2014. Koenig’s daughter Sarah is a producer on the public radio show and his interview was featured in an episode called “Origin Stories.” You can listen to the episode HERE.
He claims to have invented thumb wrestling when he was a camp counselor at Camp Greylock in Beckett, Massachusetts, in 1936. In the interview, Koenig says wrestling was quite popular at the boys’ camp and that he got the idea of interlocking thumbs and counting to three from face offs in hockey.
The claim, like another he made for popularizing shrimp, cannot be verified. Thumb wrestling’s creation has also been credited to Norman Mailer and author and humorist Paul Davidson claims his grandfather invented it in the 1940s.
Koenig died in June 2014 at age 93.