History of the game

History of Bowling

The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame has replicas of artifacts for a game similar to bowling which were found in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian youth who died approximately 5,200 BC. Ancient Polynesians rolled stones at objects from a distance of 60 feet (18.29 meters) – the same distance as from foul line to headpin.

During the 3d and 4th centuries, bowling was a religious ceremony for determining absence of sin. German parishioners had to roll or throw an object at a pin or kegel (derivation of the word kegler for bowler) to avoid performing an act of penance.

The earliest known legislation against bowling dates to 14th Century England. The sport had become so popular that people were neglecting the archery practice necessary for national defense during the 100 Year War (a misnomer, since it actually lasted from 1337 to 1453). Both King Edward III who reigned from 1327-1377 and King Richard II (1377-1399) banned the game. From Europe to America, bowling has been banned throughout the world for the “evil it leashes on society.”

A life size diorama at The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame portrays Martin Luther bowling on the single lane at the side of his home. A brochure from the Museum states that Luther, an avid bowler, “once preached a sermon which, if put into bowling vernacular, proclaimed we all strive for perfection in life. But if we roll a gutterball, all is not lost.”

Dutch Colonists brought bowling to America in the 17th century. The game consisted of nine pins set in a triangle. It was regularly played in an area of New York City still known as “Bowling Green”.

In 1841, Connecticut banned “bowling at the game of ninepins” because of widespread gambling. Other states followed suit. It is popularly believed that today’s game of tenpins was devised to circumvent the laws against the game of ninepins. An outdoor game for most of its history, indoor bowling became popular in the mid-nineteenth century after the introduction of indoor lanes in New York in 1840.


  • 1875 – Eleven New York area clubs meet to create rules and some standardization of equipment. No significant impact since no agreement could be reached on the width of the lane or size of the pin.
  • 1892 – Women were known to be active participants and even bowled in a separate event at the 1907 ABC tournament.
  • 1895 – American Bowling Congress organized at Beethoven Hall in New York City. Maximum score established at 300. Previously, it was 20 balls with a top score of 200. Distance between pins was set at 12 inches. The original organizers represented New York City, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Buffalo, N.Y. The following year Cincinnati, Boston and Lowell, Mass. were represented and letters of interest were received from Chicago, St. Louis, Wheeling, W. Va., Kansas City, Mo. and Quebec, Canada.
  • 1900 -1910 – ABC’s relevance and credibility were tested often in a power struggle between the east (New York) and west (Chicago). Among other issues, New York, accustomed to infrequent competition wanted dues to be $1 per league. Chicago, which had regular league sessions favored $1 per team.
  • 1902 – Ernest Fosberg of Rockford, Ill. becomes first to roll ABC-approved 300 in five-man league play.
  • 1903 – E. D. Peifer of Chicago inaugurates a handicap method for bowling. Previously, all competition was on a “scratch” (actual score) basis.
  • 1905 – First hard rubber ball developed; maximum ball weight set at 16 pounds. Previously all balls were made of “lignum vitae”, a hardwood.
  • 1906 – Brunswick-Balke-Collender opens factory to make wooden bowling balls.
  • 1906 – The east seceded from ABC and organized its own group. Fourteen years later, they returned to the flock.
  • 1906 – ABC refuses to allow women to be members.
  • 1916 – The WIBC founded.
  • 1916 – ABC amends its constitution, limiting its membership to white males only.
  • 1920 – Prohibition law leads to increase in bowling as proprietors discover that patrons want to bowl, even if they can’t drink.
  • 1922 – Alley owners and employees placed in separate membership class. In 1929 the “class”; was expanded to include those with financial interests, instructors or those who received pay for services. The possibility these people could improve with free practice was the crux of the rule. It was voted out in 1948.
  • 1928 – Rule requiring alleys to eject gambling types adopted and bowlers warned that any involvement would result in expulsion. In 1976, the rule was virtually eliminated since casino properties in Las Vegas and Reno could not even sponsor teams.
  • 1930 – Jenny Kelleher, Madison, Wisc. rolls first WIBC-approved perfect game.
  • 1939 – Rule requiring annual inspection and certification of lanes is adopted.
  • 1939 – National Negro Bowling Assoc. founded (subsequently changed to The National Bowling Association, Inc.
  • 1941 – ABC Hall of Fame instituted. (Only baseball and golf have older Halls of Fame.)
  • 1941 -1945 World War II significantly impacts bowling. The military built 4,500 alley beds on bases as a major source of recreation. It was the first exposure to bowling for countless servicemen and women.
  • 1948 – Brunswick introduces dots and arrow markers to their lanes, dramatically improving accuracy for most bowlers.
  • 1950 – After a bitter fight with activists from the labor and religious areas which lasted several years, ABC removes “white only”from its constitution.
  • 1958 – The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was founded by Eddie Elias, an Akron attorney and television sports interviewer. There were 33 charter members.
  • 1959 – The Professional Women Bowler’s Association becomes the first organization for professional women bowlers. It is no longer operating.
  • 1962 – American Wheelchair Bowling Association formed.
  • 1978 – J. Elmer Reed, a pioneer of the National Negro Bowling Association, becomes first black inducted into the ABC Hall of Fame.
  • 1981 – Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour formed.
  • 1982 – Young American Bowling Alliance formed through merger of the American Junior Bowling Congress, Youth Bowling Assn. and the ABC/WIBC collegiate divisions.
  • 1993 – ABC removes “male only” from its constitution pursuant to threats from women activists.

Recent Posts

Bowling Equipment

Top 10 Best Bowling Shoes For 2024 Reviews

The right bowling shoes will make a world of difference in the alley. In addition, with the right shoes you will be given the capacity to run…

Bowling Equipment

Top Ten Best Bowling Balls for 2024

Bowling is fun and amazing sport that is enjoyed by millions. While most people decide to just get a ball from the facility that they decide to use, those who love bowling will get their own.

Bowling Equipment

Top 10 Best Bowling Gloves For 2024

When you step out onto the lanes, having the right bowling glove can make all the difference. Whether you want extra wrist support, a glove limiting the effects of arthritis on your game…

Bowling Equipment

Top 10 Best Bowling Bags For 2024 Reviews

Below is a review of top bowling bags off 2020 that allows you to carry all the accessories you need for a fulfilling bowling session…

Follow Us