The History of Bowling in America

Posted by Sarah Seippel on

The Origin of Bowling

Bowling has a thick, rich history, and today it is one of the most popular sports in the world.  It is theorized that bowling dates to 3200 BC; however, it appeared in Western Europe and then the United States much later.  German historian William Pehle hypothesizes that bowling began in Germany around 300 AD.  Additionally, there is evidence that suggest that bowling appeared in English around 1366, when King Edward III outlawed the sport to keep his troops focused on archery.

Modern Bowling

The style of bowling we associate with the American culture is based off the German version of nine-pin bowling, as well as German ceremonies.  In these ceremonies, parishioners were instructed to place their kegels, a pin-like item that was used for both protection and sport, at the end of a long lane.  Next, they were instructed to roll a rock at the kegle.   If the rock crashed the object down, sins were absolved.

German immigrants fostered the game’s popularity in America as they formed their own bowling leagues preceding and following the American Civil War.  The first indoor bowling facility was Knickerbockers in New York City, 1840.  The lanes were made of baked clay and the balls were made of wood.  The Brunswick Corporation aided in advancing the sports equipment, enhancing the sport’s growing popularity.  Such improvements included replacing the wooden bowling balls with hard rubber bowling balls.  Additionally, as the sport’s popularity increase, more companies began to create custom bowling balls, as well as apparel for professional and recreational bowlers alike.

The Standardization of the Sport

During the late 1800’s, a restaurant owner named Joe Thum gathered many representatives from regional bowling clubs.  People from states like New York, Ohio, and Illinois met to establish the American Bowling Congress in Beethoven Hall in New York City, leading standardization and national competitions to soon follow.  The American Bowl Congress (ABC), now referred to as the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), was originally designed for men only; however, in 1917, the Women created an alternative organization: The Women’s International Bowling Congress.

With the emergence of these organizations came rules to standardize the sport.  All lignum vitae hard wood balls were replaced by rubber balls, the “Everture”.  Not only was the ball material standardized but so were rules and scoring.  A standard scoring system was also put into place.  One game of bowling consists of ten frames, and within each ten frames, bowlers receive two chances to knock down as many pins as possible with their bowling ball.  Then are ten pins set up at the beginning of each frame.  If a bowler knocks all ten pins down on the first try, he is awarded a strike.  If the bowler knocks all ten down in two tries, it is called a spare.  Although the game equipment and the scoring do not differ, the ball weight does.  A player can use any size bowling ball as long as the weight does not exceed 16.00 pounds (7.26 kg).

Five of the Most Famous Bowlers in America’s History:

1. Earl Anthony

Earl Anthony was a left-handed bowler in America and was also the first to win the professional bowling’s No. 1.

2. Walter Ray Williams Jr.

Walter Ray Williams Jr. is one of the greatest bowlers in history.  He is notorious for his two-handed bowling style.

3. Richard Anthony Weber

Richard Anthony Weber was one of the founding members of he Professional Bowlers Association.  He also captured his first PBA title in the 2nd tournament of the inaugural 1959 season.

4. Pete Weber

Pete Weber was introduced to the sport at only two years old, and he has rolled over eighty perfect 300 games in PBA completions through 2016.

5. Mike Aulby

Mike Aulby is another left-handed bowler, and he is one of only four PBA bowlers to win both a Rookie of the Year and a Player of the Year award.


Our Photograph:


Description Country: Italy Source: Bodin Collection

Approx. Date: 1940s

 An Italian man enjoys a fun game of bowling as he releases his ball and watches it roll down the alleyway in front of him. As he lets go of the ball, he bends his left leg forward and raises his right leg behind him as he leans forward with his throwing arm outstretched. He fixates on his target with an intense expression and furrows his eyebrows as he appears to be deep in focus. Behind him, two older men watch the bowler as they prop themselves against a wooden wall and enjoy the entertainment.

Taken by George Sakata, a photographer featured throughout our website. George was a member of the infamous 100th Division 442nd Nisei Regimental Combat Team in WWII. This was the only Japanese American unit in WWII and was nicknamed the "Go For Broke" unit. The 442nd had a casualty rate of 93% and was awarded 21 Medal of Honors. 




1 comment

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