The History Of Bowling: One Of The World’s First Sports

By: Gray Rollins

The act of trying to knock over a series of pins by rolling a round object towards them may not be new, but this great activity is as challenging and engaging today as it was in the past. Archaeologists have found evidence of bowling-type games from as long as five thousand years ago. This makes bowling one of the oldest sports on record, dating all the way back to the civilization of the ancient Egyptians. Every time you pull on your bowling shoes and head for your favorite lane to try and hit a few strikes, you are participating in a ritual that has amused and challenged humans since the year 3200 BC.

Although the unique pedigree of bowling hardly sounds like a recipe for one of modern America’s favorite family pastimes, the truth remains that the game is roughly ninety percent derived from ancient Egypt and ten percent derived from nineteenth century law dodgers. Add a splash of turn of the century technology, and you have the modern game of bowling.

From what historians have been able to piece together, the basic game of bowling did not change very much between its inception at the dawn of human culture and the middle of the nineteenth century.

At that time, the ancient game of ninepin bowling had caught on all over Europe and had made its way to the United States where it was a very popular sport in the underworld community and became a favorite target for gamblers. This led the government of the state of Connecticut to pass an 1841 law that prohibited owning a ninepin bowling alley. This was an attempt to fragment the gambling community by making it impossible for them to meet in the bowling alleys where they usually gathered.

To get around this law, the gamblers in the area simply changed the rules of the game. They added an extra pin to the bowling setup; thereby making their alleys into tenpin bowling alleys. The tenpin bowling alleys were technically legal to own and operate simply because they hadn’t existed when Connecticut banned the game of ninepins. The game of tenpins proved to be more fun than its predecessor, and ten is the number of pins that we still play with today.

Once ten pins became the standard for the game, the only aspect of bowling that remained old fashioned by today’s perspective was the ball. The first modern bowling ball was not introduced until 1905. Before that time, most bowling balls were made of a wood called “lignum vitae,” which was prized both for its light weight and its durability. However, wooden bowling balls did not have as much spring or bounce as the materials we use today.

The first rubber bowling ball hit the market in 1905, and was immediately popular. By 1914 a new rubberized plastic compound was created specifically for use in bowling balls. This compound was known as Mineralite and its use transformed the game, enabling faster rolling speeds and greater precision. This created whole new styles of bowling techniques, many of which are still in use today by both top bowlers and by young children who are just starting out.