History of Bowling - Origins and Evolution of Bowling

Bowling is one of the most popular leisure and sports activities in the world today in which players throw or roll a bowling ball towards a target. The majority of people think of bowling as an entertaining indoor game which is played with friends and family. Going to a bowling alleys, renting bowling shoes, taking a ball and trying to knock down all 10-pins in one or two tries. Other than this traditional 10-pin bowling, there is a variety of bowling games nowadays.

Sources tell us that the earliest known forms of bowling can be traced back to circa 3200 BC in ancient Egypt. However, these old versions of bowling may not look like the modern versions. There is not much information on the early stages of the game until 2000 years ago.

Bowling 1655

Perhaps the biggest and the oldest discovery that archeologists have made are objects found in ancient Egyptian child’s tomb and that are identified as bowling equipment. Such as pins, bowling balls, etc. The game can also be traced back to ancient Yemen, Germany, and Finland. In Polynesia, archeologists have also found balls of stone and pins that were utilized for the regional game called “Ula Maika”. Various forms of bowling were noted by Herodotus. According to him, that was an invention of the Lydians in Asia Minor. Another rough form of bowling evolved within Roman empire borders about 2000 years ago. Roman soldiers used to toss stone object trying to get them as close as possible to other stone objects. Centuries later, this form evolved into Italian “Bocce”, which is the outdoor bowling. This game was played by the Gallic tribe of Helvetii in northern Italy during Cesar’s rule (50 BC).

In the 5th century AD, the game started to take the shape of bowling as we know it. The location of this development was within approximate German borders. Bowling was still not a sport at the time, but rather a ceremonial ritual. Pins, which were seen as evil spirits or demons, were toppled by stone objects so that participants would cleanse their spirits and free their souls. As centuries were passing by, stone materials were switched for wooden to create balls and pins. William Pehle, a medieval historian, had claimed that there was an evidence of bowling in Germany around 300AD. The game was played in cloisters of cathedrals where there was a custom of having parishioners, according to the ancient chronicles of Paderborn. A parishioner would be given a ball and asked to throw it at the “kegel”, meaning heathen. In the case of a hit, the thrower is considered not to be a sinner. If the outcome is opposite, then the parishioner is supposed to attend services more often. In the centuries to follow, there were no records of significant changes in bowling. During the 1300s only three pins were used is some German regions, while in others it was common to have 17 pins in the game. It also became a popular sport in Great Britain. The game was the favorite leisure activity King Edward III’s soldiers. According to some sources, the game started being played indoors in England in the 15th century.

Eventually, bowling separated from the church and became a secular sport across European countries, such as Switzerland, Spain, Austria and Scandinavian countries where it was not unusual to see bowling greens at rich people’s estates. However, the game began to gain bad reputation due to the associations with gambling and drinking . Evidently, too many soldiers of the royal army were spending most of their off-duty time bowling, so they didn’t practice their archery skills enough. Those skills were apparently essential to the national defense during the 100 Years War. Eventually, the king decided to ban the game since it became a great risk for national security.

The game eventually reached the United States due to Dutch and English immigrants’ efforts, where the first written materials about bowling date from 1818 in Washington Irving’s book titled “Rip Van Winkle”. Initially, bowling was a 9-pin game in America, but since the game was associated with drinking and gambling, just as it was across the Atlantic, the state of Connecticut banned “nine-pins”. The response to this was the addition of an extra 10th pin so that the game would be renamed to ”10-pin”. However, the town of Perry in New York State had already passed the bill on banning the game regardless of the number of pins. It happened that the will of the people proved to be stronger and the popularity of bowling didn’t take a fall across the country. Organizing games away from the main parts of the cities enabled people to participate in this game nonetheless. As German immigrants began to move westward, the game’s popularity continued to increase rapidly nationwide. That progress led to the formation of the American Bowling Congress in 1895 after the basic rules had been codified and equipment regulations got established. The first championship tournament was held in 1901.

A technological leap enabled the usage of more sophisticated materials for manufacturing bowling balls. The first rubber ball used in bowling in 1905 was named “Evertrue”. A decade later the Brunswick Corporation developed the ball made of “mineralite”. Before this technological advancements, balls were only made of hardwood. The America Machine Foundry Company acquired patents to put an end to thepinboy”, whose job was to set up the pins. Instead of a person, this was done by an automatic “pin spotter”, which was introduced in 1952. These innovations led to media’s praise, and NBC decided to air “Championship Bowling” for the first time.

Sweden began installing the first tenpin lanes at the beginning of the 20th century. Quite interestingly, most of other European countries did not succeed in popularizing the sport in spite of multiple attempts. Decades later, Great Britain embraced the sport in the heat of World War II. Several hundreds of lanes were installed at American military camps.

Woman Bowling 1860

During the 1950s, bowling underwent major technical improvements, such as the ball, electronic scoring, monitors that show the speed and path of the ball and some more. In this period, different types of bowling and strategies were formed, which led to the standardization of the game. Not only professionally, but also for pure fun, families all over the USA began participating in national holidays, birthday parties, etc., so the number of bowling alleys was increasing nationwide.

According to documents, the first national competition took place in Hannover in 1891. The first world tournament in bowling was held in the capital of Finland, Helsinki, in 1954. The tournament was held in three zones: Asian, American, and European.

In the 1960s, equipment manufacturers in the United States started looking for new markets where they could invest more. In 1961 the British Tenpin Bowling Association was formed after receiving support from America’s ABC. Before long, Mexico and Australia began to follow this tenpin trend, as did some Latin countries.

The sport is nowadays enjoyed by 95 million people in almost hundred countries worldwide, according to the statistics. In the USA alone, between 60 and 70 million people bowl at least once a year, with about 7 million who compete in the league plays. Bowling continues to be among the favorite activities among friends. It is a relaxing and fun sport which doesn't involve many risks.

The history of bowling is constantly being written. This sport continues to grow since people keep improvising and coming up with new ideas how to make bowling even more exciting. Variations of the game depend upon pin and ball size, as well as candlepins and duckpins.

Bowling 1655
Woman Bowling 1860
Bowling In The 17th Century