Did you know Milwaukee was home to a well-known Jewish featherweight boxer during the 1920s? Julius Singer, later known as Joey Sangor, was born on July 4th, 1903 in Russia. In 1905, Sangor came to Milwaukee with his mother and two brothers (his father served in the Russo-Japanese War and joined the family later). Why Milwaukee? His grandparents Abraham and Jessie Shutkin were already living here.
Joey’s father Morris earned a living as a peddler, with the family eventually settling at 9th Street. It was there that Joey got his start in learning rudimentary boxing skills. His father made a punching bag in the basement, consisting of a burlap sack stuffed with paper.
Joey attended North Division High School, but dropped out after his second year after his father died during the summer of 1920. To support his mother and siblings, he worked in an ice house, carrying three to four tons of ice per day and making $35 per week. Along with his good friend Sam Haber, he joined the local YMCA and trained there. (Haber later became executive vice chairman of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.) A few months later, the two youths showed up at the Milwaukee Athletic Club for tryouts for an amateur boxing card. After a few minutes in the ring, the club’s athletic trainer told them to leave, feeling they were not cut out for the sport. As Joey later told the newspapermen during his career, “I don’t look like a fighter in street clothes or in the gymnasium. I took up boxing professionally because I had to make money. If I hadn’t made good at it pretty quick, I would have quit.”
Although he never won a title, he became known as the “uncrowned champion,” because of his victories over champions in non-title bouts. His most well-known bouts were with Bud Taylor, with whom he fought four times. He also knocked out future lightweight champion Sam Mandell.
After retiring from boxing in 1930, he became a licensed pharmacist the following year. He opened a drugstore with his brother Lew at the intersection of Greenfield and National Avenue. They remained at that location until 1956, when they opened Joey Sangor Drug Store at 3720 North 92nd Street in Milwaukee.
Despite his career change from boxer to pharmacist, Joey remained heavily involved in the sport of boxing. For a time, he promoted bouts in Milwaukee and managed a few local boxers. In 1950, he was appointed to the Wisconsin State Athletic Commission by Governor Kohler. He also served as a vice president of the World Boxing Association for several years.
In 1967, Joey became the first Jewish person selected for the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. The Jewish Community Center Athletic “Wall of Fame” Committee also honored him in 1974. He died in 1982 at the age of 78.