The Tournament of the Century

The story of the first International Bowling Tournament ever held in the United States of America

from newspaper reports

By Max Gross

* Table of Contents *

The Building of an American Nation
The Plan for a Centennial Celebration
The Tournament Format
A Ten Pin Challenge for the Championship of the United States
An International Bowling Tournament
The Tournament Begins
The End of the Games

Part Two

The Building of an American Nation

America was prosperous at the turn of the 20th century and its social climate was one of a constant celebration. The social games of bowling pins were the most popular social games in America. Many kinds of bowling existed supported by a large number of European immigrants, each familiar with their own manner of bowling. However, in most of America, the exciting social game of “Strikes and Spares” or “American Ten Pins” had become a more favored form of bowling.

The first International Bowling Tournament on record was conducted over 5 day period in Hanover, Germany beginning June 13, 1891. American players from New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis had made the transoceanic voyage to compete and had returned to the United States with the majority of the $500 purse. Thereafter, international bowling tournaments were scheduled on an irregular semi-annual basis primarily held in Germany and in French Canada.

While other forms of bowling had centuries of rules to abide by, standards for play using the unique American number of ten pins had only recently been established at the grand German meeting house, Beethoven Hall. The American Bowling Congress, a consortium of bowling clubs from New York, Brooklyn and several other cities met in New York in 1896 and agreed on game specifications that permitted all bowling clubs to compete equally in the game of American Ten Pins. The United Bowling Clubs of New York was the strongest bowling society in America in January 1900 and had become an immediate member of the Congress. Many of the executives and directors in the two organizations were the same individuals. United had the greatest team and individual membership counts in the Congress and internally, a very strong treasury balance.

The level of immigration into the USA grew steadily after 1896, with most new arrivals into New York coming as unskilled workers from eastern and southern Europe. They found jobs working in the steel mills, slaughterhouses and as construction crews in the mill towns and industrial cities. They became part of the fraternal order of the common worker who used bowling as a social outlet.

Beethoven HallBeethoven BanquetBeethoven Hall Window

Beethoven Hall Banquet Circa 1905

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The Plan for a Centennial Celebration

During the 4th annual meeting of the American Bowling Congress in the Elephant Clubhouse in Brooklyn in January 1898, a resolution passed that the ABC would hold an elaborate and grand celebration of the sport of bowling to begin the new century. Planning for the big event was handed over to a committee of members that included Thomas Curtis, the 1st president of the ABC, and Louis Schutte, the publisher of Bowlers Journal newspaper and the president of the United Bowling Clubs of New York. After two years of planning, on January 7, 1900, the United Bowling Clubs of New York announced that it would conduct an International Bowling Tournament with a secured purse of $10,000 in the United States for the first time, planned for July 1900. The tournament was scheduled a few weeks after most bowling club league seasons had ended for the summer.

The site for this historic event was to be Union Hill, New Jersey and the renowned Schuetzen Park; members of the German community had purchased the beautiful 25-acre hillside setting nearly three decades earlier. Situated close to, and easily accessible from New York, Schuetzen Park was a perfect location for this important bowling and social event. Its location was an immigrant’s crossroads, not far from Ellis Island itself. A large festival hall had been constructed there only a couple of years earlier at a great cost by the New York and New Jersey German communities. It contained six bowling lanes and a kitchen in the basement, plus a very large assembly and dance hall on the first floor where thousands of people could dance. For it’s namesake as “Shooters Park”, Schuetzen Park had an essential rifle range built into the side of Union Hill. Target shooting was a favorite social pass time of the German community.

Schuetzen Park Festival Hall, Kitchen and Bowling Alleys circa 1908

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The Tournament Format

The United Bowling Clubs were committed to the best possible experience at the tournament by the visiting teams of bowlers. The club expressed it’s desire that the event would appeal to every bowler and every bowling club in the United States, hoping they would take advantage of the opportunity to compete with America and Europe’s “army of devotees” of the popular game. Special rates for tournament bowlers were secured with hotels and railroads. A ladies reception committee would look after the comfort and welfare of the fair sex.

For the International Bowling Tournament, twenty new alleys would be built under a roofed pavilion in a portion of the park, open on all sides to allow the wind to cool the players, and with enough seating around the perimeter to seat thousands of spectators. The best alley construction company in America would construct the lanes and no bowling on them would occur until the beginning of the tournament. These special lanes would be used for the men’s tournament events, bowling demonstrations and other special events. New electric lights would illuminate the lanes. The six existing alleys located in the Festival Hall would be used for the two competition events planned for women bowlers and bowling activities were planned from noon until midnight every day.

Team and individual men’s competition in the games of candlepins, head pin, strikes and spares, cocked hat and nine pins would make the tournament a genuine international competition. International bowling games that were not generally understood by the public were to be included as an attraction. Exhibition bowling was planned with “bowling on the green” or Bocce, the old Italian style of bowling, and demonstrations of the games of Swedish Three Pin and English Four Pin. An exhibition of an ancient German style of bowling with a plank alley only a foot and a half wide and ninety feet long was included.

Tournament entry fees were announced as $5 per event per person, plus $10 to enter the strikes and spare ten pin competition. One half of the 5 person teams entered were to receive prizes from the $10,000 purse. “Large and handsome” trophies and mementoes were donated to the tournament by merchants, organizations and individuals who were interested in the sport of bowling and the winning teams would receive one. Each individual player would be awarded a gold badge.

Band performances and dancing were planned every day at 3 o’clock around the Schuetzen Park music pavilion and a grand display of fireworks would be ignited each evening. The latest invention from New Jersey’s Thomas Edison would be on display in the Festival Hall along with the banners and trophies brought by visiting bowling teams to the International Bowling Tournament. For any challenger, a shooting competition would be conducted at the Schuetzen Park 50 yard rifle range.

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A Ten Pin Challenge for the "Championship of the United States"

The long time ABC Secretary and manager of the Greater New York bowling team, Samuel Karpf, had led the New York team in a national city tour during each of the previous four years, competing and performing exhibitions in cities as far away as Salt Lake. After the planned tournament was announced, Karpf wrote to W.V. Thompson, manager of the All Star bowling team from Chicago challenging them to a series of matches for the “Championship of the United States” at the International Bowling Tournament.

Samuel Karpf, circa 1903

Originally, this proposal was for an inter-city tournament between New York and Chicago playing the “strikes and spares” game with tenpins. To set the stage for a great rivalry, the Chicago team openly bragged that they had adopted the lane and pin specifications used in New York and would be much more proficient in their strikes and spares games. Interest in the inter-city competition became so intense that the event was opened to only one bowling team from each city. Teams from New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Toronto, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Wheeling democratically decided the players for their teams and entered the Inter-city Championship event.

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An International Bowling Tournament

On January 11, 1900, four days after the tournament announcement by the United Bowling Clubs of New York, the American Bowling Congress held its 5th annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Henry Timm was elected President of the ABC for his fifth and final term in office.

Executives from both the United Bowling Clubs of New York and the American Bowling Congress, including Dr. Timm, would become the executive committee for the International Bowling Tournament. Dr. Timm was included because he had served as a primary member of the Rules Committee that had recommended ten pin play standards to the ABC.

5 time ABC president Dr. Henry Timm, circa 1900

As reports of the planned tournament spread throughout the country in 1900 an article was published in every major newspaper in the land . “Star rollers in nearly every city that had one or more alleys began banding themselves together and organizing into clubs to attend the big carnival.” 1 Not only would the best men bowlers participate in the event, but “prominent and noted female bowlers” were also committed to come. 1) Omaha Daily Bee, Sunday February 25, 1900

As the weeks rolled toward the tournament, many teams elected not to disband their bowling clubs at the end of the bowling season in May as they had traditionally done, but would stick together and tolerate the warmer weather until after the tournament was conducted. A grand end of season picnic for Eastern bowlers was planned to follow the parade on the opening day of the tournament.

The International Bowling Tournament became the first time that bowling teams and individuals would travel thousands of miles to participate, some finding it difficult to leave their businesses behind to make the journey to New York, but nevertheless making the trip with great anticipation. The final count of entries was 22 cities represented in total by over 350 teams. New York, Brooklyn and New Jersey housed 53 bowling clubs, most of them had teams entered in the tournament. Bowling teams from as far away as Nebraska, Texas and Germany were also entered. 25 women’s teams were entered in the women’s strikes and spares competition.

The stage was set for the International Bowling Tournament to be the social event of the new century for the bowling community.

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The Tournament Begins

On Sunday, July 15, the United Bowling Clubs of New York conducted a spectacular reception for visiting bowlers in the popular 40-year-old German social facility and birthplace of the American Bowling Congress, Beethoven Hall in New York City. The hall was elaborately decorated with bunting, banners and flags. Every New York bowling organization was invited to the grand reception, an assembly of local, distant and foreign bowlers that had never been assembled together at one time before. The reception included vaudeville acts provided by the Amusement Committee of the tournament including Joseph Thum, Samuel Karpf and George Straek, all current or former executives of the American Bowling Congress

A full printed bowling program was produced by the tournament committee showing the schedule of bowling event events and included a history of the game of bowling. Pictures of officers, prominent bowlers and club presidents were also included in the program along with a portrait of Admiral George Dewey.

A grand parade was held on Monday, July 16, the opening day of the tournament, and many of the parading bowling teams were in uniform and carried banners and flags. The parade included thirty bands, as well as Volksfest and singing societies, shooting and rifle clubs and other athletic organizations. The parade started in New York City and marched to Schuetzen Park promising to be the greatest parade and bowling celebration ever held in the United States. Presidential hopeful and Spanish War hero Admiral George Dewey would attend the bowlers parade and open the tournament by rolling the first ball as an honorary member of the United Bowling Clubs of New York.

After the opening day parade the “crack bowling teams” from all parts of the country were permitted bowling practice on the unfamiliar lanes in the bowling pavilion.

Competition in all bowling events began on Tuesday, July 17, and continued each following day with intense interest in the Inter-city Championship. It began with the city team from Wheeling, West Virginia capturing the early lead by defeating both the Baltimore and Toronto teams.

Every day, the bowling competition was viewed by thousands of spectators during the three days of bowling. The final match was conducted on Friday, July 20 with a three game series between the elected teams from Chicago and New York.

Led by a the former prominent New York bowler Frank Briell, Chicago would win the overall Inter-city Championship by defeating New York in all three games, and in the process score the highest pin fall for the tournament. New York finished an honorable second. The Chicago bowlers bid immediately that their city would hold the next International Bowling Tournament.

Chicago bowler Frank Briell, circa 1905

Following the Chicago victory, the American Bowling Congress conducted a meeting on Saturday, July 21, at Beethoven Hall presided over by president Timm. In recognition of the Chicago victory, The Congress elected that the city of Chicago would be the next location for the international tournament, the next one to be sponsored by the American Bowling Congress. It was planned to be conducted January 8 through January 18, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, the first ABC Open Tournament. Following this announcement, many New York teams publicly declared that they would go to Chicago to win back the Inter-city Championship. By November, five New York teams would be entered in this first ABC Tournament, confident that they would bring the national championship back to New York.

Humidity was high and temperatures had soared into the 90’s in New York during the week of competition. A great thunderstorm appeared on that Saturday night and the wind ripped part of the roof off of the bowling pavilion. Several lanes were made unusable for Sunday’s final bowling events. Most of the team and individual contests had already been decided by this last day, except for one, the ladies individual headpin contest. The final champion was won the event by one pin, downing it with the last ball of the tournament. The victory brought such great excitement and jubilation from her New York friends that “they lifted her high upon their shoulders among great cheering and was paraded around the park while a cornet played”.

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The End of the Games

An awards ceremony was conducted at 5pm on that final Sunday in the Festival Hall honoring the winners in the teams competitions and awarding a set of silver cups, one large and one small, to the members of the Inter-city champion Chicago team. The second place team of New York received a large sterling silver loving cup. Over 300 individual medals and 50 silver cups were awarded and the $10,000 purse distributed to the top team and individual bowlers.

When the 3rd Summer Olympic Games were held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, only 13 countries attended. It was the first time the event had been held outside of Europe. Bowling was not included as an Olympic sport even though America was the host of the modern Olympic Games and bowling was the most popular social game in America as well as in Europe. Perhaps bowling was discounted because over 500 of the 687 competitors were Americans, and bowling tenpins had become a popular but decidedly American game with many skilled American players. This omission is unfortunate for the sport of bowling, perhaps missing it’s best chance to be included in the international Olympic games.

Ten years after the international tournament, the Schuetzen Park Festival Hall and main pavilion with its dance hall, kitchens and bowling alleys would burn to the ground in a spectacular fire that also ignited a nearby house, carousels and playground swings. Over 10,000 people came to observe the fire. So much water was pumped on the conflagration that all of the basements of the houses at the bottom of the hill were flooded. During the following years, parts of Schuetzen Park would be sold off for road and other construction projects. Today, the park still exists hosting German festivals, weddings and other events.

The memories of the first International Bowling Tournament ever held in the United States have faded into history, but its mark as the greatest event in bowling and in amateur athletics to start the 20th century is indelible.

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The Heritage of American Ten Pins

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Copyright © 2013, Max Gross and American Ten Pins, Dallas, TX, 75205
All Rights Reserved

© 2014, American Ten Pins, Dallas, Texas. All Rights Reserved.