The Interesting History of Bowling


Bowling is a fun and popular game that has many fans all over the world. We usually tend to think of this as a mostly indoors game. Some families go out for a night of bowling just for the entertainment it provides, while some people might be part of bowling teams and participate in a very competitive spirit. That is why bowling is one of the most popular sports for competitive socialising.

What many of us might not know is that bowling comes in many forms and versions. There’s a whole interesting history to this game. We’ll be discussing this below:

Bowling in the Conventional Sense

For the most part, those familiar with bowling in any sense usually think of a certain experience they get with this game. This involves going to an indoor bowling establishment, putting on some special bowling shoes (either your own or a rented pair and then choosing a ball that comes through an automatic machine. With this ball, we try to knock down ten pins that are standing at the end of a long lane. The shoes are important for giving us a proper grip, so make sure you know what you need before buying your own pair.

The pins themselves are curved, bottle-like structures that are arranged in a specific sequence. They might not weigh much, but they do present a challenge when one tries to knock them down all at once.

If we manage to knock down all the pins in one try, it’s called a strike. This is a positive factor that works in the player’s favor. However, most beginners usually take a couple of tries to knock down all the pins.

A full game of bowling involves around ten tries. While this traditional ten-pin version is now thought to be the bowling norm, there are several forms of bowling to consider. Some might play an outdoor version of the game, while there are also several earlier types.

The Earlier Forms of Bowling

Bowling can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, which places its origin at around 5,000 BC. According to the depictions and relics we have today, the ancient Egyptians had a game or pastime where they used to roll stones to knock certain objects over.

From there, it’s evident that the sport of bowling evolved into the ten-pin game we’re familiar with today. There are also other versions such as duck pin bowling, nine-pin bowling, five-pin bowling, and candle pin bowling.

The outdoor versions of bowling are called lawn bowling and bocce. Both are different games in themselves, but they also bear a resemblance to the usually bowling form. Plus, bocce also has its roots in the games played within the Ancient Roman Empire.

It’s believed that the first-ever standard ball for bowling was called the evertrue. This became part of the game around 1905. The Brunswick Corporation came up with a mineralite version of the ball in 1914 along with the now-familiar rubber compound. Bowling alleys are now incomplete without an automatic pinsetter, an invention by Gottfried Schmidt. This makes it easier to set up the pins for another round, rather than hiring personnel to arrange them again as quickly as possible.

The Terminology of Bowling

Bowling has its own jargon, as is the case with most popular sports or pastimes. As we mentioned above, if you knock down all the pins with just one attempt, you get a strike. If you use two balls/attempts but still knock down all the pins, this is a ‘spare’. if you simply make a gap in the pin arrangement, you have a ‘split’.

A perfect bowling game consists of twelve strikes in a row. This is what each player aims for, whether they’re playing the game competitively or simply for recreational purposes. If you ask around, there might also be some strange superstitions and rituals surrounding professional bowling, just like there are in many other sports.

The Risks of Bowling

Bowling, whether indoor or outdoor, is usually considered to be a fun, entertaining, and relaxing sport. However, there are still some risks involved when you bowl. The riskiest bowling equipment is the ball, which could be quite heavy. If you’re not careful, handling and throwing a heavy bowling ball regularly can cause strain on the wrists, arms, and shoulders. The very act of delivering the ball can also strain the bowler’s legs and back. It’s hence best to stretch properly before you start your bowling games.

Other risks here include dropping the ball on our foot, getting fingers stuck in the holes of the ball, or mishandling it in some either way. While these incidents can be painful and require first aid, bowling injuries aren’t usually serious or long-lasting. However, there’s still the risk of an occasional fracture if a ball smashes down too hard on the foot.

Glancing at the History of Bowling

Bowling has a long and complex history, with several countries having some version of it in their past. Here are a few of the major countries where bowling might have originated.



Bowling is a sport that came before the Olympics and the Roman Empire. We know this due to different anthropological and archeological discoveries, while also looking at the records of ancient civilizations. During the 1930sfor instance, Sir Flinders Petrie (an anthropologist hailing from Britain) found a very old bowling set inside a child’s grave. This was an especially interesting find, as the grave itself was estimated to be about 5,000 years old. It’s also believed to originate at the time when the Ancient Egyptian empire was at its peak.

The discovery of this bowling set means that not only was bowling around at the time, but that it was also properly developed into a proper game. Plus, the game was beloved enough to be placed into a child’s grave.

Anthropologists have also uncovered several kinds of artwork and Egyptian hieroglyphics that show people playing a sport very like modern bowling. At the University of Pisa, Professor EddaBresciani also discovered a sort of ancient hall at some distance from Cairo. The structure and construction of this hall make it seem like it was among the earliest bowling alleyways.



William Pehle, a German historian, has said that modern bowling also has some German roots dating as far back as 300 BCE. Around that era, most German used to carry kegels for their protection as well as for playing sports. These were wooden rods shaped somewhat like the bowling pins we know today. They believed that knocking down the Kegels using a rock will help to absolve them of their sins.

This was admittedly a more religious take on a sport, but it’s still very similar to bowling. With more advancements in the game, lawn bowling became quite popular and even led to an active betting scene. This led to some laws being passed in Berlin in 1325, which limited the betting to just five shillings.

In the next two centuries, bowling spread to Austria and Switzerland from Germany. People started playing on surfaces that were made of baked clay or cinders. Eventually, the outdoor lawn bowling lanes were roofed over, making it possible to play in all kinds of weather. Germany named these structures kegelbahns. These early bowling establishments were usually a part of guest houses and even taverns.



The introduction of bowling in England is still under debate for historians. However, we have early evidence that there was a bowling green in 1299. This was located in Southampton.

King Henry III managed to ban bowling in England in 1366, on the grounds that it distracted soldieries from their archery practice. This led to the historical records officially mentioning bowling for the first time.

In the 1400s, the ban on bowling had been lifted, with bowling lanes roofed over. This made bowling more of an indoor activity, bringing it even closer to the modern-day bowling we recognize today. However, the lower classes were banned from the sport in 151 by King Henry VI. This was with the aim of making bowling a sport that only the wealthy could enjoy.

However, several variations of bowling were already popping up all over the continent. The Low Countries, Switzerland, and Austria each had their own version, with the number of pins ranging from three to seventeen. The size of the bowling ball and the number of players also varied according to the location. The main goal of the game still remained the same, which was to knock down the maximum amount of pins in the smallest number of attempts.


The Dutch, German, and British settlers brought over bowling to America. We have pictures of Dutchmen involved in playing certain types of bowling in New York as far back as 1670. This is among the earliest known evidence of this game being played in North America.

American literature also has a very early reference to bowling. This was in the classic novel ‘Rip Van Winkle’, an 1819 work by Washington Irving. This book described some ghostly Dutchmen playing a game of ‘crashing nine pins’.

By the time the 1820s came around, betting on bowling was a popular yet shady practice. Gambling became a means of relieving stress and a vice for several workers, who probably had little else for entertainment. The gambling around bowling became so common and so problematic that some American states even outlawed it for some time.

Bowling kept up its evolution, though, and gained many influences from the melting pot of cultures within the United States. There were so many variations that a set of universal rules became necessary before bowling leagues could be formed. Joe Thum was the first to make the standards, with backing from the United Bowling Clubs. The American Bowling Congress was founded in 1895.

It was around this point that women also became a part of the bowling arena. Since indoor alleys were now the norm, bowling was considered more genteel and not so much a gambler’s sport as before. While women were still not allowed to join the American Bowling Congress League, they did have an information tournament in 1907. Around ten years later, the WIBC (Women’s International Bowling Congress) came into being. This became the largest sports league in the world where women were concerned.

Bowling in the 20th Century and Today

The 20th century was a good time for the popularity of bowling. This was especially because beer companies were searching for ways to gain a foothold in the market after the prohibition ended. Such companies started sponsoring bowling teams for the promotion of their different brands. Whether the teams were professional or only semi-professional, they attracted enough attention for the success of such marketing tactics.

The 1950s was also the age where television was taking over every American home. Bowling was one of the broadcast sports on NBC at that time, with its popularity growing by leaps and bounds after the airing of ‘Championship Bowling’. The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was founded in 1958 and has several thousand members worldwide.

A PBA event was aired on ABC early on in the 1960s decade, the first of its kind. Eddie Elias was among the PBA founders and collaborated with the ABC network for the Pro Bowlers Tour. This was followed by the Ladies Pro Tour some years on. Both the events made television viewership for bowling a staple in many American households.

Incidentally, bowling was also a leisurely pastime for several American Presidents. Harry Truman had bowling lanes constructed in the White House’s West Wing in 1948. Nixon was an enthusiastic bowler as well, and added a single lane underneath the North Portico in the White House.

The PBA was responsible for founding the U.S Open, which is among the major tournament in the bowling league. Finally, Bowling became a part of the Olympics in 1988. While there were 20 countries participating in the bowling event then, the addition was merely for demonstration. This meant that there were no medals involved. Bowling is still not a part of the Olympic roster, though it was shortlisted as a potential addition for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, financial constraints meant that bowling was struck from this list as well.


Right now, bowling is a game played by several million people in over ninety countries. It can range from the most amateurish of children’s games to a long and difficult professional league. Even children’s parties might have bowling as part of their games. Taverns might still have gamblers betting on the game, but the indoor alleyways and establishments make bowling a mostly family-friendly option.

One thing is clear; bowling still has a thriving popularity and is among the most-played sports on the planet. It’s also one of the most fun things to do while in Indiana, so you might want to check out the offerings there.

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