A Boxing New Yorker
Gene Tunney was born James Joseph Tunney to a working class Irish Catholic family in New York City. His father worked as a longshoreman, loading and unloading freighter cargo at New York harbor, and was a fan of boxing. An amateur boxer, Tunney's father fought in matches at Owney Geaghan's boxing club on the Bowery. The young Tunney got into fights in the streets of his Greenwich Village neighborhood as a boy, and his father gave him a pair of boxing gloves for his tenth birthday in the hopes that he would learn to properly defend himself.
At fifteen years of age, Tunney dropped out of school and got a job as an office boy at the Ocean Steamship Company, earning five dollars a week. He moved up to mail clerk, more than doubling his pay to eleven dollars a week, and from there was promoted to freight classifier, bringing in seventeen dollars a week. During breaks, Tunney sparred with any of his office mates who were willing, shoving desks and filing cabinets aside to form a makeshift ring. In the evenings, Tunney further honed his boxing skills at the Greenwich Village Athletic Club.
In 1915, fresh out of his teens, Tunney became a professional boxer. This was when he fought his first professional match, against an accomplished young boxer named Bobby Dawson. Tunney's seven-round knockout of Dawson earned him eighteen dollars—more than his weekly pay at the steamship company, and it left him with a taste for more.