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History of bowling


With a remarkably rich history, bowling is probably one of the oldest sports to have been developed, with a form of it likely being played by the ancient Egyptians. In the 1930s British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie discovered a collection of objects that appear to have been used for a rudimentary form of bowling no less than 5000 years ago, in 3200 BC. The first mentions of the game are as old as academic history, with the Greek Herodotus (considered to have been the world’s first proper historian) writing about various forms of bowling games and attributing their inception to the Lydians.

There is an indication that both the outdoor version of the game, in which the ball is thrown, as well as something similar to today’s rolling ball variety were played in ancient times, since the materials used for constructing the ball would have fit both styles. A game similar to today’s Italian Bocce, or outdoor bowling, was played by Roman legionaries around 2000 years ago. A rolling game, using a rounded rock to hit a club, was partaken in as a cleansing ritual in early middle ages Germany (400 AD).

The oldest known bowling green to survive to the present day was set up in 1299 in Southampton, England. Originally known as the Master’s Close, it is used to play the target style of bowling, to the present day, under the administration of the Southampton Bowling Club.

Bowling seems to have been a highly popular betting game throughout medieval Europe, and there are records of laws to limit the betting amounts for Berlin and Cologne in 1325. The first official mention for England is from 1366 when King Edward III bans bowling together with various other sports so that the population would concentrate on archery training.

Bawling became an indoor sport in 1455 when London bowling lanes were first roofed over, so that rain wouldn’t interrupt matches. These new bowling alleys spread to Germany, where they were known as kegelbahns and usually functioned in or around taverns and guesthouses. Throughout the 15th and 17th centuries, the game will spread into Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands.  

In 16th-century England, attempts were made to limit its practice to the upper classes. Towards this end, King Henry VIII, an enthusiastic bowler himself, passed an edict in 1511 banning the game for commoners and imposing a tax on the use of private lanes in order to cut off access for those of meager means. A 1541 English law bans workers from bowling for most days of the year with the exception of Christmas, when they could only play in their master’s residence and under his supervision.  

Perhaps not so surprising considering the game’s ritualistic roots, the number of pins was fixed to 9 by none other than Martin Luther the founder of Protestantism. This happened around 1520, and until then the number of pins could have been anywhere between 3 and 17. Martin Luther was known to play the sport himself and had a private lane set up next to his house, primarily intended to be used by his children.

According to an anecdote, Sir Francis Drake was notices of the arrival of the Spanish Armada on the 19th of July 1588 while he was bawling at Plymouth Hoe. He didn’t let this news stop his game, however, the admiral replying that: “We have time enough to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too.”

In England, bowling is to be further regulated by King James’ the First “Declaration of Sports”, which banned the game on Sundays. This measure seems to have outraged Puritans who went so far as to publicly burn the transcript of the edict upon assuming parliamentary power in 1643.

The game was allegedly played by the crew of famous Dutch East India Company explorer Henry Hudson upon discovering Hudson Bay in 1609. This might be the first recorded instance of a game of bowling taking place on American soil.   

It is known that a bowling lane was in place at the Old King’s Arms Tavern in 1670s New Amsterdam, near today’s 2nd and Broadway intersection in downtown New York. Bowling Green built in 1733, the oldest surviving park in the city, bears the name of the sport, as a testament to the importance it was given at the time.

The oldest bowling lanes to be seen today in the US date back from 1846 and are part of Roseland Cottage, located in Woodstock, Connecticut. It was New York City where the sport reached its peak in popularity during the second half of the 19th century. The National Bowling Association (NBA) is founded here in 1875, with the object of regulating and standardizing the game. The 27 clubs who initially signed for it couldn’t agree upon a common set of rules, however, so the NBA was superseded by the American Bowling Congress in 1895.

The game goes through its fastest period of development during the first half of the 20th century, as a result of both new regulations and technological advances. Bowling alleys finally separate from drinking establishments in the early 1920s due to prohibition and the famous annual Petersen Open Bowling Tournament is held for the first time in 1921. The International Bowling Association is formed in 1926 by representatives from the US, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, and Finland. In 1952 the automatic pin setter machine was first produced, eliminating the need for a pin boy hence reducing the cost of renting a lane.





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