The first modern Summer Games were held in Athens, the home of the ancient Olympics. Fourteen nations took part, with Greece winning the marathon race in their home country.
The National Archives’ collections on the modern Olympics begin here, with dispatches from the Minister in Athens.
We also hold images of sporting events and advertising posters from this time.
The second modern Summer Games took place during the Exposition Universelle, France’s World’s Fair. Sporting events took place over five months as part of the Fair, which became the main focus.
Women also competed in the modern Olympic Games for the first time.
The National Archives holds records relating to the Paris Exhibition, as well as images of athletes from this time.
Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place for the first time in 1904.
As in Paris, the Games were not the main focus of the 1904 Olympics, as they were held over four and a half months during the Saint Louis World's Fair.
The National Archives holds records related to the St Louis Exhibition, as well as sporting illustrations from the time.
The 1908 Games were held in London at short notice, having originally been planned for Rome. For the first time, a special stadium was built to host the Games.
The marathon race was organised so that the finish line was below the royal box in the stadium.
The National Archives holds a selection of photographs of the Games, as well as plans for the marathon race.
All five continents took part for the first time in the 1912 Games. It was delivered efficiently using the latest technology of the time, including photo finishes and a public address system.
The National Archives holds records relating to the communications costs of the 1912 Olympics.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, the Berlin Summer Games were cancelled.
The National Archives holds many images of the First World War, as well as records relating to British Army participation in the riding team for the planned Summer Games in Berlin.
These were the first Games after the end of the First World War, awarded to Belgium to honour victims of the war and acknowledging the suffering of the Belgian people. The Olympic flag bearing the iconic five rings was raised and doves were released as a symbol of peace.
The National Archives holds a record related to the disposal of surplus government property and accommodation of British representatives in Antwerp.
Fourty four national Olympic Committees took part in the Games in 1924, a major success for Paris the second time around following the Games in 1900. The Games had become a popular major event by this time, topped off with the first formal closing ceremony.
The National Archives holds a selection of records related to the 1924 Paris Olympics, including British Army participation and the attendance of Prince Henry at the Games.
The Amsterdam Olympic Games saw the first lighting of the Olympic flame. The Opening Ceremony was led by Greece, with the host nation last, a tradition which has continued ever since.
The number of female competitors increased in 1928 and Asian competitors gained medals for the first time.
The National Archives holds records related to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, as well as records generally related to Amsterdam for this period.
The 1932 Olympics took place during the Great Depression and fewer countries and athletes took part than in the previous Games. However, the standard and achievement of participants was high, with Mildred Ella 'Babe' Didrikson setting new world records for 80m hurdles and javelin. Despite the economic depression, a grand stadium was built attracting huge crowds of spectators.
The National Archives holds a selection of records related to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
The Nazi regime attempted to use the 1936 Games for propaganda purposes, including white racial superiority. This attempt failed. The most popular athlete of the Games was African American Jesse Owens, winning four gold medals in sprinting, relay and long jump.
The National Archives holds a selection of records related to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, from the exploitation of Olympics for Nazi propaganda and the persecution of Jews, to the extent of participation and exclusion of various parties.
The 1940 Summer Games was cancelled following the start of the Second World War in 1939. This had been due to take place first in Tokyo, Japan and then in Helsinki, Finland.
The National Archives’ collections on the cancelled Olympics include proposals for Helsinki and the sale of British horses for use in the Games.
The 13th modern Summer Games, due to be held in London, were cancelled during the Second World War.
The National Archives’ collections on the cancelled 1944 Games cover the burial of the heart of the founder of the modern Olympics, and proposals to host the Games in London or Athens.
The 1948 Summer Games were held in London at short notice. Despite rationing continuing in the UK, the Games were hailed as a success and triumph over hardship.
These were the first Games to be shown on television, for the lucky few who then owned TV sets of their own.
The National Archives’ collections on the 1948 Games are extensive, covering planning, hosting, accommodation and financial arrangements.
The 1952 Games were held in Helsinki, following the earlier cancellation in 1940.
Israel and the Soviet Union competed in the Games for the first time, with particularly successful performances by Soviet women gymnasts. Women competed alongside men in equestrian mixed events for the first time.
The National Archives’ collections on the 1952 Games include records on Soviet and Chinese representation at the Games.
The Games were hosted in the Southern hemisphere, in Melbourne, for the first time.
Strict quarantine laws meant that foreign horses could not be brought in to Australia to compete, so equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden.
The National Archives holds historical images of Melbourne.
The Rome Summer Games made the most of ancient sites and history including the Basilica of Maxentius, Caracalla Baths and triumphal arch of Constantine.
Paralympic athletes joined the Games in the same city for the first time and Rome is now recognised as the first Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Olympics of 1960 saw the first major appearance of the boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became one of the best-known boxers of all time.
The National Archives’ collections include coverage of the Games, participation, naming of Republic of Ireland, and involvement of Korea and Formosa.
Tokyo was the first Asian nation to host the Games. The Olympic flame was carried by Yoshinori Sakai, who was born on 6 August 1945, the same day the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, as a symbol of peace and to honour the victims.
The first Olympic fair play trophy was awarded to the Swedish yachtsmen after they abandoned the race to help rescue two fellow competitors whose boat had sunk.
The National Archives’ collections covering the Tokyo Games include publicity operations, participation of North and South Korea, and German and colonial representation.
The 19th modern Summer Games were held in Mexico City, Mexico and Tel Aviv, Israel. Mexico declined the invitation to host the Paralympics, due to technical difficulties, and Israel stepped in to host. The 1968 Paralympics saw 750 athletes from 29 countries competing.
Meanwhile, the high altitude in Mexico City saw new world records in short distance events, with poorer performances in endurance races.
The National Archives’ collections on the Games cover participation, government assistance and grants, sporting and cultural aspects, and Rhodesian participation.
The 20th modern Summer Games were the largest to date at the time, but were overshadowed by terrorist attacks by the Black September Group who held hostage and killed the team representing Israel. The Games were paused then resumed, to honour those who lost their lives and to continue the spirit of the Olympic movement.
The National Archives’ collections range from records on financial arrangements and participation in the Games, to coverage of the terrorist attacks on athletes representing Israel.
The 1976 Games included major achievements by Alberto Juantorena of Cuba winning both the 400m and 800m, along with seven perfect scores in gymnastics from Nadia Comeneci of Romania. The Paralympics included 40 countries with 1,657 athletes.
Some countries withdrew from the Games in protest at the participation of South Africa and the then Apartheid regime, as well as the fact that New Zealand rugby had toured in South Africa.
The National Archives’ collections cover planning of the Games.
The 22nd modern Summer Games were held in Moscow, Soviet Union and Arnhem, Netherlands. There was a boycott, led by the United States, in protest at Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before.
The Paralympics was hosted at the Papendal National Sports Centre in Arnhem, having originally been due to take place in Russia; 42 countries took part with a total of 1,973 athletes.
The National Archives’ collections range from government policy on the Games relating to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to coverage of the Games, Cabinet conclusions, official and ministerial Olympic groups and participation.
For the first time, the Olympics was hailed as a financial success and Los Angeles became a model for future Games. The Paralympics were held in both New York, USA and Stoke Mandeville, UK.
The National Archives’ collections on Los Angeles 1984 covers the Games and Cultural Olympiad, along with the proposal to hold the 1984 Games in London Docklands. We also hold historical images of New York.
Despite boycotts by some countries including North Korea and Nicaragua, the 1988 Games was widely thought to provide the impetus for South Korea to move towards democracy.
The 1988 Paralympics were the largest and best facilitated so far, giving opportunities for a new generation of Paralympic athletes to compete in the main Olympic venues.
The National Archives holds records relating to the bid to host the 1988 Games and Cultural Olympiad in Britain.
Following political changes including the end of Apartheid and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Olympic Games had no boycotts for the first time since 1972.
The 1992 Games saw a controversial reduction in the number of Paralympic athletes and events, though some believed that this raised the level of competition with different abilities competing together. There were outstanding performances from Paralympic athletes in many events including swimming and athletics.
The UK also applied to host the 1992 Olympics in Birmingham, but was unsuccessful. The National Archives holds a record related to the bid and the proposed ‘Birmingham Olympic Express’.
Atlanta saw all recognised National Olympic Committees represented at the Games for the first time. The opening ceremony saw boxing legend and former Olympic champion Muhammad Ali light the Olympic flame.
A terrorist bomb exploded on 27 July at the Centennial Olympic Park, killing two people and injuring many others.
The National Archives does not yet hold open access records relating to the 1996 Games. Details of these records will be made published in our latest document releases as they become available.
The Sydney Games were a symbol of the need to reconcile and respect the Aboriginal populations of Australia, with Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic flame. Freeman went on to win the 400m race.
New additions to the programme this year included triathlon and taekwondo. The well organised events in Sydney were applauded as celebrations of Olympic sporting and cultural values.
The UK also applied to host the 2000 Olympics, but was unsuccessful until 2012.
The National Archives' collections cover the UK's bid to host the Olympics in Manchester, as well as historical images of Sydney.
In 2004, the Games returned to the birthplace of the modern and ancient Olympics. Almost four billion people had access to the television broadcasts of the Games and a record 201 nations competed.
World records and sporting achievements were exceeded in sports including swimming, cycling and canoeing.
The National Archives holds records related to Sport and 2004 Games in the UK Government Web Archive. See these archived websites on the right.
The 29th modern Summer Games were held in Beijing, China, with equestrian events in Hong Kong. Famous for the iconic ‘bird’s nest’ stadium and spectacular synchronised opening and closing ceremonies, the 2008 Games broke new records of sporting achievement.
The National Archives holds records related to the 2008 Games in the UK Government Web Archive. See these archived websites, along with old photographs of Beijing (then known as Peking) on the right.
The 30th modern Summer Games was held in London, UK. London was the first city to host the Games for a third time. Sporting and cultural events took place right across the UK from the largest venues to the smallest community celebrations.
The National Archives has built a collection of archived websites around London 2012, the activities surrounding the event and its impact across the UK. These records are available online in the UK Government Web Archive and viewable on the right, showing the development of the Games and Cultural Olympiad as it happened.
See more on various activities which took place across the UK in 2012.