The relay race was born in the United States, around 1880, in emulation of the charity races organised by New York firemen who handed on a red pennant every 300 yards. The baton was a wooden cylinder (later metallic) one foot (30.48 cm) long.
The relay made its first appearance in the 1908 Olympic Games where it was divided into legs of 200m, 200m, 400m and 800m. It was won by the United States team, with John Taylor becoming the first black athlete ever to win a gold medal.
In 1912 the 4x100m and 4x400m were admitted to the Olympic Games in Stockholm. The former, a European invention, involved handing over the baton in a 20 metre zone, which limited the speed of take-over. This was subsequently modified in 1963 to allow the receiver to wait ten metres behind the limit of the take-over zone.