The History of Ten Pin Bowling – Part 2

It was the Germans who mostly influenced the game’s development in the U.S. in the mid-late 19th century thanks to their nine-pin Kegelspiel game. They established numerous bowling games prior to, and more significantly, after, the Civil War. T

The History of Ten Pin Bowling – Part 2

he ten-pin version developed alongside nine pins, although it was the nine-pin game that was still the more popular. Clubs and saloons, where men frequented, had ten-pin alleys installed, whereas the nine-pin game was more popular with families. This was a pattern that was beginning to change, however. In 1895, a restaurateur in New York, Joe Thum, founded the American Bowling Congress (ABC). This was when the rules of the ten-pin game were standardised.

Making the game respectable

Thum was also instrumental in making the game a respectable one among the middle and upper classes. His White Elephant bowling alley was among the more luxurious and elegant centres opening at that time. In fact, Thum is often regarded as being the father of 10-pin bowling. By WW1, the majority of alleys had opted for ten pins, as opposed to nine. The change was almost complete after the nine-pin game was banned by some U.S. cities in the 1930’s when workers attended these alleys rather than going to work. A large number of the nine-pin centres that were left changed to ten-pin bowling in the 1950’s when pin setting machines were introduced. Texas was the only state left that offered nine-pin alleys.

First female leagues

In 1907, the first female leagues formed and in 1916, 40 St Louis women established the Women’s International Bowling Congress. This gave the game yet more respectability. The 1920’s saw the number of bowling centres increase from 450 to 2,000. The game was helped by prohibition as it became less associated with alcohol, so evolving into something more of a family activity. In 1933, when prohibition ended, the game was helped further by brewers sponsoring teams, leagues, and even individuals. Bowling’s working-class image was now firmly established. The fifth frame was still often referenced as the ‘drinks frame’ or ‘beer frame’ where the bowler who had scored the lowest in a particular frame would have to buy drinks for the whole team.

Bowling’s golden age

From WW11 until the mid-60’s, bowling enjoyed something of a golden age. It was promoted by the armed forces in a big way. Non-whites were being lobbied for by the labour organisations to become members of the ABC, and successfully so, which was a win for racial integration. In 1945, we saw the invention of automatic pinsetters, which were commercially introduced in 1962 and, over several years, started replacing the pin boys who the alleys had employed to return the pins back to their standing position. Televised tournaments, which began in 1947, were a huge hit in the 1950’s and contributed towards bowling becoming a national pastime. Membership in the ABC rose from 1.1mn in 1947 to 4.6m in 1963. There was also an increase in the number of lanes in the U.S., from 44,500 to 159,900, during the same period.

Bowling’s golden age

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