History of Bowling

Don't settle for the history of Bowling. Go bowling near the West Island
Don't settle for the history of Bowling. Go bowling near the West Island

Bowling as we know it today is also referred to as tenpins. In this game, a heavy ball with three holes in it, is tossed down a long, narrow lane towards pins. The goal is to knock down the greatest number of pins. Across the globe, you’ll find different variatios of this game. They include candlepins, fivepins, duckpins, skittles, and ninepins.

Where Did Bowling Begin

There is often debate as to where the origins of bowling are found. The first possibility is found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. A tomb of a child from 3200 BC reflected nine stone pins and a stone ball. Some have speculated that this was our modern views interpreting what was actually found in the tomb.

The other possibility is the sport originated in Germany as part of a religious ceremony. In this case, a Kegel was used to represent a Heide. If the German participant was able to successfully roll a stone and topple over the Heide, they were forgiven of their sins. If you’ve heard someone at the bowling lane call themselves keglers, that is where the origin of that term comes from.

Several historical references to the game have also appeared over the centuries. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther reportedly built a bowling lane for his kids and would often visit it with them. In the 1300s and 1400s, there are references to people gambling on the game of bowling, where winners could win an ox based on the results of a single throw of the ball. This would be followed by a feast of venison and an actual game of bowling.

North American Variation of Bowling

The North American variation of bowling is often incorrectly associated with lawn bowling. This game was popular in Britain and while the games have some similarities, Dutch Explorer Henry Hudson actually introduced the game to the country.

In the European variation of the game, thin wooden planks that ranged between 12” and 18” wide, by 60’ to 90’ long were used. The game would have a set of nine pins that are smaller than traditional 10 pins placed at the end. Also known as duckpin, the ball wouldn’t have finger holes and the tiny ball fits in the palm of the hand. The goal is to use the ball to knock down the pins. A variation of this game is also played in The Netherlands and is known as plank. In this version the large ball only had a thumbhole in it. The player then rolls the ball down a long plank towards a set of nine pins.

In the 1800s, bowling was gaining popularity in North America and across the globe. The problem was believed to be more of a nuisance, rather than recreational fun because of the gambling that was being associated with the sport. Connecticut and New York both introduced bans on the game, while places like Germany were cracking down on the sport also. The bans all dealt with nine pins or less used in the game. To combat the regulations, tenpins were introduced by bowling clubs. These clubs would use 10 oddly shaped pins in order to circumvent the rule about uniformed shaped pins also. The lack of uniformity made it difficult to create further regulations for the sport and eventually, the bans and restrictions on the sport began to ease up.

While the sport was evolving, there was still a lack of concise rules associated with the game. It wasn’t until September 9, 1895 that rules and equipment standards for the game were released and began to be recognized. This created a fair situation for all players, regardless of where they came from and ensured that the uniformity made the gameplay seamless from one location to the next. Tropical woods were introduced for the pins and this allowed them to become more durable, however they would begin to break down faster and had to be replaced. In 1950, the automatic pin machine was introduced to help speed up the bowling process and to make the sport more enjoyable for people.

At this time, the balls of the game also began to evolve. They would soon be made from polyester, urethane, and even hard rubber. The changes in the ball, also resulted in the change of the type of material that was used for the pins.

Today, you can find a variation of bowling in most countries of the world. This includes Europe where Sweden helped to popularize the modern version of the game in 1909, Great Britain adopted the new tenpins during World War II, and even Australia and Mexico introduced their variations such as skittles at this time. In the 1970s, Japan had a craze with the sport and it blew up into television events and everything else with women bowlers still being a common sight in the area. This then spread to Korea, Indonesia, and even Singapore. This increase in popularity led bowling to become one of the summer games at the Olympics when it was introduced in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Standardized Specifications for the Modern Game

Today, the game has more standardized variations of the equipment being used. The wooden lanes are now 62’ 10 11/16” long and 42” wide with a lacquer surface that is smooth and free of grooves, while being precisely level. The foul line must be no more than 60’ from the headpin and the length should be at least 15’.

Each pin must be 15” tall and placed in a perfect triangle formation. Pin number one should always face the bowler when placed and the pins should be approximentally 12” apart. All pins are laminated wood core with a plastic coating and must weigh between 3.5 and 3.7 pounds each.

Balls are to weigh no more than 16 pounds, but no minimum weight is in place. They can only be polyester, hard rubber, or urethane and they must be 27” in size.

Just like any sport out there, you’ll find that there is still a chance the game can experience an evolution of some kind. Since the past is full of other variations of the game, it only seems natural to assume that new variations of the game will continue to emerge as the game continues to evolve in popularity.

This post is sponsored by Bowling Pincourt.

Photo credit: MTSOfan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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