History of Bowling - Origins and Evolution of 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.
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
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 the “ pinboy”, 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
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
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.