The Heritage of American Ten Pins

By Max Gross

* Table of Contents *

The Original American Sport
The Original American Social Network
A New Generation
The German Texans
The Public Nuisance
The Ten Pin Spectator
The Game of American Ten Pins
International Diplomacy and the Game of Ten Pins
The American Civil War
The Social Game
The Sport of Bowling Survives and Thrives
January 23, 1887
The American Bowling Alley

Part One

The Original American Sport

This story is about the most widely played social sporting game in American history. A ball and pin bowling game reinvented by Americans and evolved to a highly popular game that was played by members in many levels of social strata. Arriving in America during it's exploration and settlement period, the game of bowling was changed and morphed by the many generations of communities and small social networks that played it. This simple ancient game of skill and luck earned a permanent mark in history as a part of the American social fabric for over four hundred years. It is truly Americas oldest social game.

It is widely written that the popular “bowling at pins” type games immigrated to America along with the colonists from Europe that settled the continent. Almost all of these games of amusement involved tossing or rolling spheres made of stone or wood at wooden “pins”. English, Dutch and German forms of bowling had evolved from ancient times going back to the 11th century A.D. 

Almost all of the bowling games required a player pitch a stone or roll a wooden ball with precision aim and controlled speed at a wooden pin or group of pins. In it’s earliest German form, a “Kegel”, a wooden post or club used for religious purposes, was the object to knock down with the ball. The game of Kegeln is believed to have been invented and played by German monks and their parishioners on the hard wooden surfaces in the cloisters of their monasteries. The Dutch and English were fond of playing their game on lawns but may have adapted the playing surface to wooden planks that could be used on ships in calm seas during their very long voyages. Playing this favorite game when the opportunity presented itself would surely have been a joy for the enduring sailors.

In Europe during the 17th century, forms of the game of bowling at nine pins became extremely popular with varieties of the game played widely in most of Europe. It was often found as a game of social amusement in inns and taverns, places where the proprietor would wish the visitor to linger in order to consume more and spend more money, and where the social humanity would meet to enjoy each other. Bowling had a unique magic because just about anyone could roll a ball. Three main forms of the game emerged by the year 1650 including German and Dutch versions of nine pins and an English form of nine pins called skittles.

This 17th century (circa 1645) picture of the game of skittles was published by the Graphic, a London based illustrated weekly newspaper, this issue dated September 4, 1875.

The following picture of an oil painting from the 17th century is one of the earliest images of the game of bowling. It was painted in about 1660 by a Dutch artist during a time when his home country was colonizing the North and South American continents. This beautiful oil on oak board illustration is an accurate picture of the original game of bowling that was brought to America from Europe.

(As a side note, this painting resides in a British museum and was obviously named by the British at some point. They played skittles, the Dutch played nine pins.)

Skittle Players Outside an Inn
Jan Steen ( 1626-1679) ~ Dutch
Circa 1660
Oil on oak panel

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The Original American Social Network

The game of bowling was THE earliest recreational social sport in America.

In 1623, New Netherlands was organized in the New York area by Dutch settlers and a town on Manhattan Island was established. It became New Amsterdam. The Dutch game of bowling nine pins, including the equipment required to play the game, came with the settlers from the old country. “Bowling Green” park in the financial district of downtown New York City was not officially established until the 1700’s, long after New Amsterdam had been purchased by England, but it has always been thought of as a social gathering place where games of nine pin bowling were played on the lawn with great social relish. Aresident could participate or simply watch as a spectator. In 1663 the British captured New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island from the Dutch and renamed it New York.

The colonization of America was well underway by the beginning of the 18th century. The English, Dutch, French and Spanish all had major colonization efforts in America. The immigrating colonists came for riches, personal freedom, religious beliefs and the right to self govern. They came from all walks of European life and from all kinds of professions.

In the early American colonial period, pins and bowling balls were brought to America in the luggage of an immigrant who played the game in the home country. The equipment was all hand made and as a result there were many types of pins and balls, all unique with various sizes and weights. Rules governing the play of local bowling games varied from tavern to inn, from village to town and region to region. Even the number of pins used for play ranged from 3 to as many as 17, but the most common form used nine pins as a target.

During the early 1700’s the cold winters of New England pushed the game indoors and the “bowling alley” began to emerge in saloons and taverns. Indoors, it was usually played on a polished wooden surface in various lengths like the the monastery cloister hall from ancient times. or the seagoing wooden plank of the Dutch and English explorers.

As the game developed, a “gutter” was added not as a hazard, but to simplify returning the bowling ball to the player from the pin deck, a job always handled by a “pin boy”. A very active and social game began to emerge in the gathering places for the young colonial agricultural society. Where the game of nine pins was played became a place to gather to be a part of a social group, a place for friends and fun. Bowling became an immensely popular activity as it offered entertainment for both the participant and the spectator. There were other forms of parlor games played during this period, including the board games backgammon and chess, dominos and card games. But the social and physical activity of bowling had a special kind of magic. The “play and watch others play” style of the game of bowling brought together ideas, knowledge, kinship and teamwork because of its “take turns” social nature. By 1750, bowling had become a primary form of entertainment in the American colonies.

In 1770, the population of America had reached about 2.2 million people. It was a mostly agricultural society with growing urban areas around the port cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston, cities that would later become hotbeds for the sport of bowling. The attraction to places that offered bowling created social unions of peoples and ideas, support for the run up to the American Revolution in colonial America. Since free speech was governed and tightly controlled, the meetings in the taverns and inns where people socialized allowed the word of discourse and revolution to spread.

For the next 20 years, the game of bowling would be an important part of the social network of the colonies as the American Revolution unfolded. By the beginning of 1790, the United States of America had become an independent nation with a governing constitution created with local citizen involvement. The original American social network had played an important role in the formation of the new nation.

On March 1, 1790 the United States Congress commissioned the first U.S. census. When it was completed, it counted 3.9 million citizens in the young democracy. The largest American city was Philadelphia, with 42,000 people, followed by New York (33,000), Boston (18,000), Charleston (16,000), and Baltimore (13,000). The majority of Americans were involved in agricultural pursuits, with little industrial activity occurring during this first decade of the new nation.

In 1793, the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney. This single invention spurred the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. and created the growth of U.S. manufacturing which soon employed a great number of fraternal factory workers.  The east coast of the United States began to urbanize and a new metropolitan lifestyle evolved as factories sprang up.    Food grills and bowling taverns were popular spots.  Bowling was renewed as the most widely played social game in America. 

In the early 19th century people migrated from place to place, especially westward past the Appalachian Mountains. Roadside inns appeared along the main travel routes and bowling became a primary form of entertainment and social interaction between the travelers passing through these establishments. People from many different countries were intermarrying between their cultures during this period and their ancestry become gradually meaningless as people and cultures intermingled with each generation. Cultures began to merge to become American.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the bowling games from England, Germany and Holland had built deep roots into the fabric and culture of young America. The population of the United States had grown over 20% in a single decade counting 5.3 million people in 1800 with the largest metropolitan areas in New York City (61,000), Philadelphia (41,000), Boston (25,000), and Baltimore (26,000). The population of the city of Albany, New York reached 5,349.

The number of people entering the United States exploded in the first decade of the century. The count of the census of 1790 was corrected adding over 2 million citizens, a 20% jump, to the U.S. population, increasing it to 7.2 million people in 1810. The town of St. Louis was still a tiny place, Lewis and Clark had just returned from their Corps of Discovery expedition.

As a testament to its popularity during this period, the game of nine pins is mentioned in the New York Post as an attraction for the Nautilus Hall resort on Staten Island. It was published on June 24, 1818.

Another advertisement for a space for lease lauds the nine pin alley therein, further evidence of the popularity of the game of bowling in America in 1818.

The short story Rip Van Winkle was written in England and published in London in 1819 based on the experiences of Washington Irving. It is the story of lazy Rip who follows a ghostly Dutchman high into the Kattskill mountains and partakes of the local moonshine at the invitation of his host. Soon, Rip believes that he has discovered the source of the great thundering sounds emitted from the stormy Kaatskills, a sound made by the "crashing nine pins" as he observes a bowling game underway being contested by other ghostly Dutchmen. Rip would fall asleep soon after and awaken some 20 years later.

At the time of the publication of book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which included the story Rip Van Winkle along with Irving’s classic American terror tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, bowling had been played for almost a century in America, and Irving knew that relating to the popularity of the game might help him sell books. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon went on to be the most widely read book in early 19th century America, and everyone who read it could relate to the sounds of “crashing nine pins” having heard them in their communities for many years over two or three generations of families.

By 1820, the population of the United States had grown to 9.6 million people with the majority of them in New York State and its large metropolitan area of New York City with 124,000 persons. The areas to the west of the Appalachians had also grown. The tiny village of Albany, New York had doubled in size in 20 years to a population of over 12,000 inhabitants.

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A New Generation

The games of bowling were now being played by a new generation of American citizens. The early American colonists were fading away to be replaced by their offspring with a new attitude and a new perspective of life in America. America was becoming more industrialized with factories and fraternities of factory workers. No doubt many had already worked as pin boys in their youth, and by the 1820’s bowling was engrained in their lives as a form of entertainment.

Gambling had become a fashionable pass time in Europe in the late 18th century, and now gambling on all kinds of things had become a widespread activity in the United States. The taverns where games of bowling were played became a central place where this vice was practiced, America was in the midst of the Second Great Awakening. Smokey, boisterous and loud bowling saloons with nine pin alleys were full of mischief and financial danger and now became the focus of the growing metropolitan neighborhoods.

Local and regional ordinances were enacted that put pressure on establishments that offered bowling by applying excessive taxes or by outlawing the game of nine pins completely. The examples that follow are records from this period published in local and regional newspapers, or public city records.

Issued in 1826 in Rochester, New York this is the first instance found in the 19th century of a local ordinance that restricted the playing of bowling at nine pins in a community.

The density of the population in the metropolitan areas began to show in unusual ways . The following letter to the editor of a New York newspaper complains about a couple of things from this early 19th century American period, including a bowling alley. The letter highlights the environmental conditions of the period when there was no electric power for fans or other air conditioning, leaving odors and temperatures as indoor challenges particularly when the stench of rotting fish was wafting through the open windows. The sounds of crashing nine pins might have carried for many blocks.

Carousing? This might be the first public reference to an early morning “pot game”, a tradition carried on in bowling for over one hundred years!

The earliest recognition of a “ten pin alley” comes from a short news mention of a fire in New York City on July 6, 1829. Is it implied by the writer that the "ten pin alley" is at fault for this evil deed, perhaps the beginning of trouble for the maligned game.

This reference to a "ten pin alley" is significant because it is the earliest reference in print to a new adaptation of the ancient bowling game played with nine pins. A ten pin bowling game would require a new triangle shaped target of pins and its set up and behavior when struck by a ball lent itself to newly created scoring rules. This adaptation gave birth to the unique game of American Ten Pins, soon distinguished as such by the British.

Today, the United States Bowling Congress governs the rules for the game of American Ten Pins as set forth in Rule 2.

In some metropolian city neighborhoods, the tolerance for saloons and taverns with bowling alleys became a concern for the growing numbers of working families inhabiting the apartments and brownstone residences. Many residents considered noisy and smelly alcohol fueled bowling saloons and taverns a "public nuisance" filled with shady characters. In this record from 1829, the local citizens in Oswego, New York take drastic action on a vile nine pin bowling alley.

A year later the city council of Oswego, New York outlawed the keeping of nine pin alleys, or any game usually played in a ball alley, implying that perhaps this establishment had tried adding a pin to their nine pin racks to avoid being considered a "public nuisance". Regardless of the number of pins used for the game, bowling seemed to attract an unsavory crowd. The game was very popular and it made bar patrons come and linger to spend money, so it was worth the risk by this gaming establishment to continue to offer bowling games.

$20 a day was a LOT of money in 1830. Three years later in 1833, permits for ten pin alleys were still being presented to city of Oswego.

Alcohol was always present where games of bowling were being played, and with their sweaty, smoky, stale beer and rum smell and always boisterous atmosphere, the taverns and the games of ten pins were often despised by wives and significant others.

Stories of criminals haunting ten pin alleys didn't help the game's reputation among the members of the general population. But the game was popular and fun for everyone; even a police officer attempting to apprehend a criminal appreciated its sporting fun and social merit.

Many citizens believed that taverns and saloons with bowling alleys were the haunts of criminals.

In Lyons, New York, a planned “gaming establishment”, which included a nine pin alley, was railed against by the local newspaper columnist. Religious beliefs prevailed in American society at the height of the Second Great Awakening; the bowling alley had become an evil place in many non-player minds.

“Toiling on the canal” means the Erie Canal. A trip through the canal required the extreme manual labor of dragging a boat by canal side rope through the canal, a low paying job often performed by teens and younger boys. As a working fraternity, they would find a bowling alley a place for social recreation.

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The German Texans

Texas became an independent republic in 1836, not a part of the United States or Mexico. It was a land of extreme opportunity, which was seized by the German peoples who established many German settlements in the new Republic. Their communities prided themselves on offering bowling as a family gaming sport by eliminating gambling and rowdy behavior. To this niche society, socializing was more important than athletic success. By 1837, nine pin bowling alleys were numerous enough in Texas to warrant an annual tax by the Republic of $150 per year.

Die Kegelgesellschaft (The Bowling Society)
Friedrich Eduard Meyerheim(1808–1879) ~ German
Circa 1834
Oil on canvas

German immigration to Texas was at its height in 1854, with tens of thousands of immigrants landing in Indianola or Galveston, Texas. They brought “old world” bowling to Texas with its traditional rules. They were proud that their game of nine pins was a family gaming sport, not a conducted in a gambling hall. Women played the game of bowling as well, for in these old world communities, bowling was a primary socialization activity, and bowling scores were of less importance. Nine pin bowling survives in central Texas to this day.

England’s newspapers had already begun to chide America over it’s new Americanized game of bowling. Soon, England would begin referring to the game as American Ten Pins.

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The Public Nuisance

Between 1840 and 1841, several of the governments of New England states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts passed legislation prohibiting the operations of a “nine pin bowling alley”. The penalty was a stiff fine. Many proprietors knew that this was an attempt by the government to disperse the gambling community that was gathering in their taverns and saloons.

For at least 12 prior years, ten pin games had been played as a matter of preference over nine pin bowling. The games of ten pins were much more exciting to play. The passage of a state law prohibiting the nine pin game was considered a futile move by the slow state legislators by most, the games of ten pins had already become preferred. For tavern and saloon bowling proprietors, a change in pin configuration and method of scoring in order to avoid violating the law as a "nine pin alley" was an easy change to make. This let them skirt the nine pin alley law, keep their businesses open, the liquor and beer and money flowing without fear of reprisal.

Avoiding the law by changing the alley for ten pin play may have avoided a visit by the community sheriff, but it didn’t always work to avoid the wrath of the public. Here’s a case from 1841 where the local public nuisance law created a big problem for the proprietor of a ten pin bowling alley. The judgment of the jury came swiftly, their verdict seemingly unjust considering all of the testimony.

Saint Louis was the western frontier of America in 1841, so mob decisions were not often prosecuted by the law, especially when it concerned a public nuisance in their neighborhood. Sometimes the local citizens could no longer wait for the law to take action and would take matters into their own hands.

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The Ten Pin Spectator

By many citizens, the social interaction brought forth by a game of ten pins was a very beloved thing in their lives. With no other rivaling sport available for the common man, bowling became a primary form of entertainment. Not only was the game fun to play with its exciting reward or penalty, strikes and spares scoring format, it was also pleasing to socialize with a beer or rum and simply observe the behavior of the players and their attempts at the pins. Their reactions to their success or failure was part of the attraction of bowling to those who simply spectated.

The following column is a timeless expression of some poignant philosophical observations of an experienced bowler. The philosopher may be a long retired New Orleans bowler, now a spectator and teacher of the game. His expression and observations in this 1842 published column reveal a bit of the real individual magic of the game of ten pins.

Read carefully, you might find yourself in New Orleans as the study for this bowling philosopher.

......

The Philosopher of Ten Pins describes the earliest form of rules and scoring the game of ten pins commonly played at the time. This method of scoring had descended from the games of nine pins where three balls were allowed for each of 10 frames. A total of 30 balls in 10 frames would make up a ten pin game in this way, a perfect 300 game would require 30 perfect ten strikes in a row. Commonly, ten pin racks were spaced closely together and almost any impact on the head-pin would result in a ten pin ball "strike". Combined with manual pin setting and ball returns, a single game of ten pins scored in this manner might take nearly two hours to play, plenty of time for more than one mug of beer.

In 1896, the American Bowling Congress, (now USBC), created a new way of scoring the game by using bonus pins from future frames where a strike counts 10 plus the pin-fall count achieved on the next two balls. Only two balls were allowed in each frame. This reduced the game to a minimum of 12 balls for a perfect game, or a score of a "300". With todays automatic pin spotters, a brisk game takes about 20 minutes. The modern three game series for leagues and competitions is a descentent of the 30 ball game of American Ten Pins.

Todays reader should make note of the authors suggestion of the illness created by Yellow Fever, a plague on the 19th century world that came from a then unknown source.

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The Game of American Ten Pins

By 1848, the exciting format of the “new and popular bowling game called The American Ten Pins" was being advertised in classified ads for gaming establishments in the port city of Liverpool, England. This classified ad is a clip from Advertisements & Notices, Liverpool Mercury (Liverpool, England), Friday, September 29, 1848; Issue 2026.

By 1849, every block on Broadway Avenue in New York City sported one or more bowling lounges. Many were well appointed with mahogony trim, leather couches and seats, large framed mirrors and silver plated hardware. During this early industrial age when millions of dollars were being made from steam powered energy, private alleys were being constructed in many of the mansions of the age.

During the period of the Abolitionist movement, from 1850 to the outbreak of the American Civil War, the game of ten pins still had no real standards or sanctioning body, and many, many kinds of bowling existed. Equal competition between bowling taverns, lounges and clubs was almost impossible. In some places the alley was shortened to 40 feet, in others lengthened to 70 feet. Ball and target standards also did not exist, large pins could be racked closely to each other. Pins configured in this tight triangle shape would be vulnerable where even a somewhat accurate roll of the ball into the “pocket” would knock all of them down and result in a strike. It became an easy game, a monotonous, no challenge affair for those more skilled players. The popularity of the game fell among many players, especially those who played the game for money. Oddly enough, interest in the game of billiards was revived about this time.

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International Diplomacy and the Game of Ten Pins

The celebrated son of Queen Victoria, the 19 year old Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, was sent on a diplomatic mission to North America, dispatched to do so by his mother. She felt it would help him mature, for he would become Englands King Edward VII. He landed by sail-steamship in Newfoundland, Canada, North America on July 23, 1860. He toured Canada for two months and the United States for almost three months, and was received in grand style by the public and civic leaders at every stop. The press followed the Prince closely publishing his tours with detail for it was big news in England, Canada, and the United States. Bowling a game or two of enormously popular American Ten Pins was the proper and exciting social thing to do.

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The American Civil War

Between 1861 and 1865, the American Civil War took men away from their homes, their friends, and their hobbies, the war wearing on for four years. An estimated 750,000 men were killed and it put the American people into mourning for loved ones and friends that carried on for many years. Those who were left behind in the cities, towns and villages during the war continued to play the social games while the population of young American men was decimated. Through the terrible war and tragic news, America attempted to keep its levity. This article was written and published just before the surrender of the Confederate army to Union forces in April, 1865. Yale was proud of its ten pin alley, and this particular alumnus was so obsessively fascinated with the game that he pretended to have been expelled from Yale for playing the game too much.

After the Civil War, a concensus between players and proprietors in the German communities living near the east side of New York City altered and standardized the shape of the tenpin into a carafe or “bottle” shape with a belly and a head with a selected standard size for all pins. The rack was modified to space the pins further apart and harder to knock to the deck or put into the pit with a bowled ball. This target configuration of smaller pins set in a triangle created a different sort of game. This game was modified to score with only two balls in each frame where strikes and spares became paramount achievements for the most skilled bowlers.

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The Social Game

Immediately following the American Civil War, railroad construction became a major economic force in the United States. By 1873 an estimated 33,000 miles of track had been laid across America, primarily in the eastern part of the country. The railroad industry had become the nations largest employer changing the economic engine of the country. Agricultural income was dwarfed by an industry that required great risk and cash and an enormous army of blue collar workers to build and operate. The laymen were a fraternal bunch, and one of their primary recreational social outlets was playing American Ten Pins and drinking beer with workmates and friends.

The game of American Ten Pins was being played in cities and towns all over America. Mixed gender social bowling clubs began to organize, and today's "mixed league" was born. Following the lead of the Knickerbocker alleys in New York City, the game was popularized as in indoor sport, particularly in the cold weather American Midwest. Outdoor bowling lanes were easily covered with a wooden shed type structure, and they became a sort of indoor alley as the walls became more complete over time. Some alleys were constructed in the building cellar basements or in the alleys attached to saloons and taverns, the likely source for the term "bowling alley". In the New York area, indoor lanes became known as “Knickerbocker” alleys.

Soon, the industrial cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee all had very popular bowling clubs. Inter-club and inter-league bowling tournaments became a most enjoyed mixed couple social activity when there was not a church social or a holiday dance.

American Ten Pins had become a social affair, with men and women playing the game as a primary form of entertainment. For the next 30 years, American Ten Pin bowling alleys were installed in the best mansions of America. Bowling was a game for all classes of citizens.

This steel plate engraving entitled An American Ten-Pin Alley--A Ladies Game appeared in The Graphic, a London based illustrated weekly newspaper, on October 19, 1872. Note the social interactions written in the expressions on the faces of the people gathered for a friendly game. The picture is a testament to the popularity of American Ten Pins in England and in America, the internationally played game continued to attract players and spectators to its social environment.

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The Sport of Bowling Survives and Thrives

The Panic of 1873 was a world wide financial crisis which triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879. Labor strikes in Chicago in the railroad industry and the bankruptcy of leading Michigan lumber companies created financial ripples across the country. The depression eased 6 years later in the spring of 1879, but tensions between workers and owners of banking and manufacturing interests continued. Workers banded together and discussed their plight during social gatherings, including trips to the local bowling saloon.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, from 1880 until the early 1920’s, a great wave of immigration to America took place, primarily from European cities. As these immigrants joined the hundreds of thousand of fraternal factory workers, many bowlers from the old countries discovered the social joy and fun of American Ten Pins.

Inter-club tournament competition grew as bowlers visited other bowlers’ home bowling facilities. Competition was not quite fair since a wide variety of bowling conditions were presented (note the two sizes of balls on the return in the circa 1880 picture above). The existing broad variety of pins, balls, and lanes made fair competition very difficult and it became obvious to many bowlers and bowling clubs that common rules and standards of the game between bowling clubs needed to be formed and adopted. Bowling clubs began to band together to establish common specifications for bowling equipment as well as a standardized set of rules.

For 20 years, between the years of 1875 and 1895, three separate attempts were made by a variety of groups and associations of bowling clubs in the New York area to establish a set of standard equipment specifications and a common set of rules. The National Bowling Association (NBA) and the American Amateur Bowling Union (AABU) both organized and attempted to come to common ground, but ended in disagreement.

January 23, 1887

This very interesting newspaper article about the game of ten pins appeared on page 12 of the St. Paul Daily Globe on January 23, 1887. This fascinating 128 year old article about bowling discusses the history and the current state of the sport - in 1887, 8 years before the official basic rules of the game of American Ten Pins were adopted by the American Bowling Congress. The essay mentions Bowling Green in New York, Germans bowling on wooden planks, and the popularity of bowling in New York 40 years earlier in 1849. It also discusses the way the game was reinvented in America, reformed for a ten pin target plus other forms of tenpin bowling games. Near the end it points out the difficulty of making a living as a professional bowler and that ladies bowling in corsets were not liked by proprietors!

........

A final success in creating an organization that would establish and govern the rules of play for the game of American Ten Pins was won in 1895 by the formation of the American Bowling Congress (ABC) in New York City. The ABC was formed from an initial meeting of numerous bowling clubs from New York City, Brooklyn and Buffalo, N.Y. Within a year, bowling clubs from Cincinnati, Boston and Lowell, Mass. were represented and letters of interest in joining the ABC were received from Chicago, St. Louis, Wheeling, W. Va., Kansas City, Mo. and Quebec, Canada.

The American Bowling Congress was successful in establishing a standard set of bowling rules for the game of American Ten Pins, a move that would set up the sport for a long and popular run. Common rules would allow bowling competitions between clubs and bowlers to be contested without a technical advantage either in the equipment they carried, or the places where they regularly enjoyed the game. The rules have been morphed and changed over the decades, primarily in response to technology changes. The initial rules adopted for the game of American Ten Pins by the ABC included ball and pin specifications and a maximum score established at 300 pins. These basic rules and specifications created by the American Bowling Congress have been observed for over 115 years.

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The American Bowling Alley

This steel engraving of an illustration of the hall entrance of the Sandringham House bowling alley illustrates the Prince of Wales royal family bowling at nine pins on the palace lanes. It was published in the Illustrated London News, London, March 19, 1888, seven years before the formation of the ABC.

This 1901 photograph of the bowling alley hall at Sandringham palace was published about the time that the Prince of Wales became King Edward VII following the death of his mother Queen Victoria. The bowling alley is the same interior palace room illustrated in the 1888 engraving, now about 13 years older and now captioned “The American Bowling Alley” by the London based Graphic.

By the end of the 19th century in America, New York was reported as being populated with over 200 ten pin alleys.

The game of American Ten Pins had become an indelible part of the social fabric of the United States of America by the beginning of the 20th century.


The 20th century history of American Ten Pins has been well documented in a recent publication by Mark Miller, a noted bowling historian. His book Bowling - Americas Greatest Game can be purchased from eBooks.

His book details the history of bowling in the 20th and 21st centuries through wars, elections, the invention of television, electric powered pin spotters and social networking.

We hope to compete for a federal grant to develop a documentary about this important American and international sport and its lasting effect on worldwide social fabric. If you can contribute to our effort, please send an email to us. We are seeking academic American history professors (with an interest in bowling), script writers, editors, and perhaps researchers.

Robert D. Putnam
discussed social networks and their overall effects on the American nation in this controversial 1995 article, "Bowling Alone", and in his book.

Our vision is to document the history of bowling in America and its cause and effect on social networking.

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The Tournament of the Century

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