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Bowling: Where it All Began

For everyone from professional players to families having fun, bowling is a very popular sport. In America today, more people compete at bowling than at any other sport. An estimated 95 million people worldwide hang out at the bowling alley every year, with the most serious players spending up to $300 to buy the best ball.

There are many variations of the most popular game, ten pin bowling. These include five pins, nine pins, duck pins and candle pins, to name but a few. There are also other games closely linked to those played in a bowling alley, such as lawn bowling and bocce ball, which was first played in Ancient Rome.


© Africa Studio / Adobe Stock


History of bowling

Some historians believe that bowling was played as long ago as 3200 BC. The International Bowling Museum revealed how British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie had found a collection of items in a child's grave during an expedition in the 1930s in Ancient Egypt that appeared to have been used for a game of bowling. If his assumption is correct, it dates bowling to around 5,200 years ago.

German historian, William Pehle, wrote a paper stating that bowling was first played in his country in around 300 AD. In England, the earliest documented evidence of bowling dates from 1366. It was said to be a very popular pastime among King Edward III's troops. In fact, it became so popular that the king was said to have banned it among the soldiers because it was detracting from their archery practice.

Bowling continued to be popular during the reign of King Henry VIII, which began in 1509.


American history

Historians believe English, German and Dutch settlers took bowling to the United States. It is first mentioned in American literature by Washington Irving, the writer born in 1783 in New York. In his book of short stories, Rip Van Winkle, published in 1819, he writes of how the sleeping character was awoken by the sound of "crashing nine-pins".

It is believed the first permanent bowling site in America was in the Battery area of New York, where lawn bowls was played. Although the area is now known for being a financial hub, locals still call the plot "Bowling Green".

The game of nine pin bowling became so popular that it was banned in Connecticut in 1841 because of the amount of illegal gambling that it attracted. However, many business magnates chose to have a private bowling lane installed in their home.

By the late 19th century, bowling had spread across much of the United States, making it to Ohio and as far west as Illinois. Ball sizes and weights varied, depending on the region.

On 9th September 1895, restaurant owner Joe Thum invited the many regional bowling clubs to a meeting in Beethoven Hall, New York. This was the birth of the American Bowling Congress. It enabled the sizes and weights of the balls to be standardised and marked the launch of a multitude of national competitions. It was a men-only group, however.

Despite the fact that women too had been bowling in the late 19th century, they had to set up their own group, the Women's International Bowling Congress, in 1917, based in St Louis. The leading female bowlers from around the US, who were actively participating in competitions, then set up the Women's National Bowling Association.


20th century

Bowling took a huge step forward in terms of popularity when it was first shown on television in the 1950s. In the US, NBC's programme, Championship Bowling, was the first networked coverage of the sport.

More bowls shows were launched, such as Celebrity Bowling and Bowling for Dollars. In 1961, competitions run by the Pro Bowlers' Association were shown on TV for the first time by the ABC network. The association had been founded by the entrepreneur and promoter Eddie Elias.

The Pro Bowlers' Tour was launched to coincide with the TV coverage. The women went on to set up the Professional Women's Bowling Association and launched their own Ladies' Pro Bowlers' Tour. Thanks to the television coverage in the 1950s and '60s, bowling became the massively popular sport that it is today.

Bowling is now enjoyed in more than 90 countries and the top players compete under the governance of the Federation Nationale des Quilleurs in international and Olympic Zone tournaments.


Bowling ball evolution

In historical times, the balls were usually made of hard wood, but the first bowling ball of the modern era was a revolutionary design made from rubber. Technology had taken a great step forward in 1905, when manufacturers stopped making balls from the very hard wood, lignum vitae.

They were replaced with the first rubber ball called the Evertrue, which meant the design could be fine-tuned to make sure it performed well on various surfaces. The wooden ball bowling lanes were maintained with mineral oil every day to keep them smooth, despite the continual action of the balls.

The first two-thirds of the bowling lane is oiled more heavily than the latter third. This means when the ball is thrown properly, it slides straight down the lane, encounters the less-oiled surface and subsequently curves towards the pins, due to the improved traction.

In 1914, rubber balls advanced further, thanks to the Brunswick Corporation, which promoted the Mineralite ball. They described it as being made of a "mysterious rubber compound". With the introduction of rubber balls, combined with the more organised structure of the sport and agreed standards, bowling went from strength to strength.

When the balls were made of wood, there was little chance to personalise them to the individual player's style. The introduction of rubber meant they could be moulded to give a more bespoke feel for each player, while adhering to the legal standards.

Urethane bowling balls were first used in the 1980s, followed by the development of resin in around 1990, dramatically changing the design of the balls. A dense block within the ball (known as its core), with a resin surface layer, enabled the number of perfect games to increase dramatically.

A perfect game is one in which all ten pins are knocked down, with each of 12 successive throws. The American Bowling Congress said there had been 14,889 perfect games during the 1991 to 1992 season and 17,654 the following season.


Fastest speed

The modern technology that led to the development of bowling balls has also created some astounding speeds! On four consecutive 10 pin bowling attempts, Osku Palermaa of Finland reached a record ball speed of more than 28mph. His fastest speed was 28.97 mph, which the experts described as "astonishing", considering the ball weighed 15 lbs.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the highest 10 pin bowling score ever achieved was 300 - the maximum score possible. It was achieved an amazing 112 times by the right-handed American bowler Jeff Carter, now aged 50. His achievement has been verified by the sport's governing body, the USBC. He also managed a record 24 perfect games in PBA events during the 2009/10 season.

The revolution of rubber balls has successfully enabled players to achieve higher scores with greater accuracy than the old-fashioned wooden balls could ever hope for.

Coruba offers a quality range of rubber products, including industrial, residential and commercial supplies – there is something in our huge range of rubber safety mats for all sectors. Give us a call today on 01702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk for more details.

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