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For other persons named Joseph Thompson, see Joseph Thompson
Joseph H. Thompson
1909 photo of Joe Thompson during his Pitt coaching years
Born (1871-09-26)September 26, 1871
Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland
Died February 1, 1928(1928-02-01) (aged 56)
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, United States
Occupation soldier, lawyer, athlete, politician
Known for Pennsylvania State Senator (47th District, 1913-1916); Medal of honor recipient
Military career
Allegiance United States United States
Service/branch United States Army seal U.S. Army
Years of service 1917 - 1918
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lt. Colonel
Unit 110th Infantry, 28th Division
Battles/wars World War I
Mexican Border
Western Front
Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Medal
Croix de Guerre
Purple Heart

Joseph "Colonel Joe" Henry Thompson (September 26, 1871 – February 1, 1928) was a highly decorated World War I veteran, recipient of the Medal of Honor, lawyer, Pennsylvania state senator, head football coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, and College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

College years[edit | edit source]

Geneva College[edit | edit source]

Thompson came to the United States from Ireland in 1898 at the age of 18 and entered Geneva College that year. He immediately became a basketball star and also participated in gymnastics and wrestling, but did not go out for football until 1900. He served as Geneva’s player-coach for three years, with his football teams compiling a 27-2-3 record.

University of Pittsburgh[edit | edit source]

Thompson continued his education at the University of Pittsburgh, then called the Western University of Pennsylvania, where he played football from 1904 and 1906,[1] during which time the Panthers compiled a 26-6 record. He captained the Pitt football team to its first perfect season in 1904 when the Panthers won all ten games and surrendered only one touchdown. Thompson graduated from Pitt in 1905 and continued on with post-graduate work in the School of Law completing his law degree.[2] While at Pitt he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.[3]

Professional life[edit | edit source]

Coaching[edit | edit source]

Following graduation from Pitt's Law School, Thompson assumed the head coaching position at Pitt from 1909 to 1912 during which period he led Pitt to a 22-11-2 record. The highlight of his coaching tenure was the 1910 season in which Pitt went undefeated and unscored upon and was considered by many consider to be that season's National Champion.[4] While compiling its 9-0 record, Pitt outscored its opponents 282-0. During this time, he attended Pitt's School of Law, graduating in 1909 and was admitted to the bar.

A song to Joe Thompson was written to honor him as football coach at Pitt. Entitled "Joe Thompson" it was sung to the tune of the American folk song "Old Black Joe" by Stephen Foster.[5]

Who plans the plays to spring upon the foe?

Who fought for Wup, five years or more ago?

Who's still for Pitt, does anybody know?

Just hear those loyal rooters shouting:
Joe! Joe! Joe!

We're coming, we're coming;

We have the foe in tow,

So here's a cheer for Pittsburgh dear

And Joe! Joe! Joe!

While at Pitt, Thompson also coached the track and field team beginning in 1904.[6][7] At various points, he also coached football at Pittsburgh High School and Carnegie Tech and was Rochester High School’s first football coach.

Politics and law[edit | edit source]

Thompson represented the 47th District as a member of the Republican Party in the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1913-1916[8] and practiced law in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

Military service[edit | edit source]


A page from the 1920 Pitt student yearbook

Thompson entered the Army in 1917 and fought in Mexico and France during World War I where he was repeatedly wounded and became a decorated hero. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, the British Medal of Honor, and the American Distinguished Service Medal.[9] After the war, he served in the reserves corp[10] he practiced law in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania until his death in 1928 from ailments aggravated by war wounds.

Hall of Fame[edit | edit source]

Thompson was inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and has been inducted into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.[11][12]

Medal of Honor citation[edit | edit source]

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army, 110th Infantry, 28th Division. Place and date: Near Apremont, France, October 1, 1918. Entered service at: Beaver Falls, Pa. Born: September 26, 1871, Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland. G.O. No.: 21, W.D., 1925.[13]


Counterattacked by 2 regiments of the enemy, Maj. Thompson encouraged his battalion in the front line of constantly braving the hazardous fire of machineguns and artillery. His courage was mainly responsible for the heavy repulse of the enemy. Later in the action, when the advance of his assaulting companies was held up by fire from a hostile machinegun nest and all but 1 of the 6 assaulting tanks were disabled, Maj. Thompson, with great gallantry and coolness, rushed forward on foot 3 separate times in advance of the assaulting line, under heavy machinegun and antitank-gun fire, and led the 1 remaining tank to within a few yards of the enemy machinegun nest, which succeeded in reducing it, thereby making it possible for the infantry to advance.[13]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. Sam Sciullo, Sam Sciullo, Jr. (2004). Tales from the Pitt Panthers. Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 1-58261-198-X. http://books.google.com/?id=2HY9Fer-FE0C&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=colonel+joe+thompson. 
  2. "Joseph H. Thompson". University of Pittsburgh. April 1928. p. 222. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/t/text/pageviewer-idx?xc=1;g=documentingpitt;type=simple;idno=31735062131770;view=image;seq=0080. Retrieved February 23, 2013. 
  3. http://www.phigam.org/history/Lists/MOH.htm
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named cfbdatawarehouse.com
  5. Assorted University of Pittsburgh Publications at digital.library.pitt.edu
  6. O'Brien, Jim (editor) (1982). Hail to Pitt: A Sports History of the University of Pittsburgh. Wolfson Publishing Co. pp. 66. ISBN 0-916114-08-2. 
  7. Documenting Pitt at digital.library.pitt.edu
  8. The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Thompson, J. at politicalgraveyard.com
  9. Alberts, Robert C. (1987). Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh 1787–1987. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. book One; pp. 67. ISBN 0-8229-1150-7. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=pittmiscpubs;cc=pittmiscpubs;q1=Joe%20Thompson;rgn=full%20text;idno=00c50130m;didno=00c50130m;view=image;seq=0087. 
  10. "JOE THOMPSON DECORATED.; "Fighting Irishman" Gets Congressional Medal for Valor in France". The New York Times. December 15, 1922. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9F01E2D81F3EEE3ABC4D52DFB4678389639EDE&oref=slogin. 
  11. Colonel Joe Thompson at www.bcshof.org
  12. College Football Hall of Fame at www.collegefootball.org
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Medal of Honor recipients". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. August 3, 2009. http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/worldwari.html. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 

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