Joe Palooka

About This Inductee

Joe officially made his first appearance on April 12, 1930. He was a refreshingly innocent prizefighter who went on to become comic’s World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. His roots originated in Wyoming Valley. His creator, Ham Fisher, a Wilkes-Barre native born in 1900 and graduate of Wilkes-Barre High School, was working for the Wilkes-Barre Record newspaper as a staff cartoonist. Ham was talking to popular area lightweight boxer Joe Hardy when inspiration struck and Joe Palooka was born. Seven years later, Fisher left Wilkes-Barre for New York City to work for the Daily News and then for the McNaught Syndicate selling comic strips to newspaper clients. In 1931 he sold his own daily strip to McNaught and Joe Palooka was on his way to becoming one of American’s greatest heroes. Fisher was quoted that Joe was “a defender of the little guys, a gentle knight.”

Originally a small-town, country-bumpkin kind of guy, the hulking, blond, lovable boxer gained polish and maturity as time went on. Joe enlisted in the military on December 4, 1940, playing a major role in boosting American morale during World War II. The clean-living soldier inspired America’s youth and was displayed on recruiting posters. Joe educated servicemen on the care and handling of equipment and demonstrated the ideal of heroism and devotion to duty. Shortly after enlistment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly thanked Joe Palooka and Ham Fisher for their patriotism. Joe embodied the values of strength and commitment and was the “champion of democracy.” By war’s end, Joe Palooka was syndicated in more than 900 newspapers and daily readership was estimated at 50 million. Joe and Ham received citations from the Navy, Air Force War Department and others in recognition of their war efforts.

Joe’s boxing career was managed by Knobby Walsh, inspired by the late Tom Quigley, a prominent area boxer, manager and promoter, known as “Mr. Boxing” in Wyoming Valley, and also the late Effie Walsh, sports editor of the Evening News. In the late 1940’s, the newspaper strip became one of the top selling comic books. Joe was untarnished by vices and incorruptible. Next came a radio show and TV series on ABC, airing 26 episodes between 1954 and 1955. Joe’s courageous exploits were also immortalized in several movies. There was even talk in 1990 of an off-Broadway show called “Palooka: The Broadway Musical.”

Following Ham Fisher’s death in 1955, artist Tony DiPreta continued Joe Palooka for more than 30 years. Joe’s career went on for a total of 54 years; he fought his last round on November 24, 1984 and retired undefeated. The Wilkes-Barre Record and Times Leader published the strip all 54 years. In the strip, Joe Palooka was married to the former Ann Howe and they had two children.

In the 1940’s, the Fort Durkee Hotel on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre named their cocktail lounge “The Joe Palooka Room” which was decorated with many blowups of the comic strip. More recently there was also a diner on Market Street in Wilkes-Barre called the “Joe Palooka Diner.” In 1949, a marker with Joe’s image was placed by the Chamber of Commerce near the intersection of Route 309 and Laurel Run Road in Hanover Township, renaming the location “Joe Palooka Mountain.” In 1976, $2,000 was raised by a local committee to renovate the marker and in June of that year a one-ton granite monument was rededicated to Joe near the site of the original marker. Tony DiPreta and Ham Fisher’s daughter, Wendy, were in attendance. Tim McAdam, representative of the McNaught Syndicate, once stated “When you mention the top comics of all time, Joe Palooka was one of them.”