The History of Pickleball: Full Story Of The Origins & Where It All Began
The history of pickleball started in the backyard of a congressman and his friend were bored with badminton and had no racks or shuttlecocks. They were forced to improvise by using gear from other sports and formulating their own rules.
Yet this shows a mere glimpse of the true story. In this fun write-up, we explore the full pickleball history and the key events that helped build it into today’s widely popular sport.
History of Pickleball Timeline
- 1965: Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell improvise the first game of pickleball with their families at his residence.
- 1967: Bob O’Brien constructs the first-ever permanent pickleball court.
- 1972: Pickle Ball Inc. launches, trademarking the term “Pickle-ball.”
- 1975: Pickleball features in the National Observer.
- 1976: The first pickleball tournament takes place at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.
- 1982: Sid Williams helps to organize events in Washington.
- 1984: The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA) forms.
- 1990: Pickleball spreads to all 50 states.
- 1992: Pickleball Inc. begins producing pickleballs themselves with a bespoke drilling machine.
- 1997: The founder of pickleball, Joel Pritchard, sadly passes away.
- 1999: The first pickleball-focused website forms. “Pickleball Stuff” provides info and equipment for players.
- 2001: Pickleball makes its way into the Arizona Senior Olympics.
- 2005: USAPA reorganizes and becomes the USA Pickleball Association.
- 2006: Another founder of the sport, Bill Bell, sadly passes away.
- 2008: USAPA releases their official rulebook.
- 2009: The first USAPA National Tournament takes place at Buckeye, Arizona. Just under 400 players compete.
- 2010: The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) forms to spread the sport globally.
- 2013: USAPA members grow to 4,071.
- 2015: Places2Play documents that there are 12,800 courts across the country.
- 2018: USAPA members swell to 30,000.
- 2019: Pickleball is hailed as the quickest-growing sport in the US by the Sports Fitness Industry Association, with players totaling 3.3 million.
- 2020: USAPA rebrands to USA Pickleball and changes to a new and improved logo.
- 2022: Pickleball is marked as the fastest-growing sport in the US for the second time by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
- 2023: The pickleball player base in the US grows to 8.9 million, and it retains its title for the fastest-growing sport
The Pickleball Origin Story
Pickleball has humble beginnings. The pickleball invention was not intended to be the worldwide popular sport today. Rather, it was born through improvisation on a day filled with boredom.
But who created pickleball? When did pickleball start? And where was pickleball invented?
In 1965, Congressman Joel Prichard from Washington State and his friend Bill Bell are the fathers of pickleball. They had returned to Pritchard’s residence in Bainbridge Island following a golf trip. After a fun excursion, the golfing high evaporated as they arrived to find both of their families bored and uninspired.
Eager to shift the atmosphere, the pair suggested playing some badminton as there was a court on the property. However, after searching for equipment, they came up empty-handed. Therefore, they were forced to improvise.
This boredom led to the game of pickleball.
Inventing the Game
Without the proper equipment, they produced other sports gear they could find and advised the children to produce a fitting game they could play on the badminton court. They decided to use ping pong paddles and a whiffle ball, and they volleyed this ball over the net just like badminton.
After testing, they found that the whiffle ball bounced well on the asphalt badminton court. Consequently, they decided to lower the net to a height of 36 inches.
The next weekend, the two families were joined by another of Pritchard’s friends, Barney McCallum. The three men put their heads together to refine the game’s ruleset further so that it was easier for their families to play.
Creating the First Official Pickleball Court
Two years later, in 1967, the rules of pickleball were well established (unofficially), and while Pritchard had his badminton court, a legitimate pickleball court was yet to be built.
Given he and his family had been playing the sport for two years, word of this new game had started to spread around the neighborhood, so much so that Pritchard’s friend and neighbor Bob O’Brien wanted to build his own court on his property. Not exactly the location you imagine for where the first pickleball court started!
Establishing the Pickleball Brand
As the game’s popularity began to spread, it ceased to be an improvised game for Pritchard’s local community to enjoy. It had become a game that players outside of Bainbridge Island were keen to try.
Therefore, Pritchard and Barney MacCallum’s son David decided to create a company for the game. They called in Pickle Ball Inc. and promptly trademarked the term in 1972.
Not only did they create a company, but they also began creating specialist gear for the game so that anyone could enjoy it. This meant no more whiffle balls and ping pong paddles. The equipment was specifically designed for pickleball through the many years of testing and play among the families.
With equipment available and a name to go with it, the sport was instantly successful in Washington. And as time went on, this fanned out across the country.
Read More: The 7 Best Pickleball Sets You Can Purchase
The First Pickleball Tournament
The first pickleball tournament occurred four years after creating the brand in 1976. It was held at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. Named “The world’s first Pickleball Championship,” it drew plenty of attention. This was facilitated through a mention in a tennis magazine.
While not all entrants knew all the rules of the game, they were easy enough to pick up, and the tournament was very successful. Players used wooden paddles and large plastic balls.
The First Governing Body of Pickleball
Throughout the 1980s, pickleball experienced sustained growth, with many tournaments taking place. Sid Williams, a pioneer of pickleball, organized a significant portion of these tournaments.
In 1984, he helped form the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA), which was the first governing body of the sport. During his tenure with the organization from 1984 to 1998, he served as both the executive director and president.
Continued Growth & Innovation in the Late 20th Century
From Wood to Nomex and Fiberglass Paddles
During the period leading up to the 21st century, the sport continued to grow, and many people helped with innovation.
One of the biggest changes was to the paddles. Previously, McCallum created plywood paddles in a small workshop, but with popularity growing, others were trying to make higher-quality rackets.
Arlen Paranto, the father of Steve Paranto (the runner-up of the first pickleball tournament), put his engineering knowledge from working at Boeing to use and created the first Nomex and fiberglass paddles.
By 1990, pickleball had spread to every state in the US — demonstrating just how popular it had become and indicating where it might eventually go.
Two years later, in 1992, Pickleball Inc. also improved its pickleball production and began producing balls themselves with a bespoke drilling machine.
The first pickleball-centered website also emerged before the birth of the 21st century. Named “Pickleball Stuff,” it provided key information for players as well as equipment.
More Tournaments, Organizations, and Growth From 2000 to 2010
Pickleball Makes Its Way Into Senior Tournaments
In 2001, another key figure, Earl Hill, helped further push pickleball. Securing a spot in the Arizona Senior Olympics got a lot of visibility and marked the largest tournament to date, with over 100 entrants. This number would triple in just a few years.
Later, in 2002, pickleball made its way into the Huntsman World Senior Games. Another big win for the sport, as the tournament boasts over 11,500 athletes.
Organizational Changes and Rulebook Release
In 2005, the governing body of pickleball, USAPA, underwent a restructuring. During this time, they changed the name. While they kept the same acronym, it now stood for the USA Pickleball Association.
Three years later, the organization published its first official rulebook. This gave the sport a seal of legitimacy, as anyone interested could access the game’s undisputed rules.
Yet USAPA wasn’t done there. They knew that pickleball showed promise for international appeal. Therefore, in 2010, they created the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) to promote international growth.
Explosion in Popularity to Current Day
From 2013, pickleball started to experience serious growth year on year. This was demonstrated through USAPA members who are more than your casual “pickleball enjoyers.”
At the start of the year, they had just over 4,000 members. By 2015, the number had grown to 10,000; by the end of 2017, it was 22,000. This showed no signs of stopping, and it didn’t. In 2023, USAPA memberships exceed 70,000.
Equally, the appeal extended beyond USAPA members; many newcomers were trying out the sport for themselves. While this grew remarkably each year, 2022 represented a monumental jump. An estimated 8.9 million people played the sport eight times or more.
Read More: Why Is Pickleball So Popular?
What Does the Term Pickleball Mean?
We’re not surprised if you’re curious about where the term “pickleball” originates and what it means. After all, it’s a very peculiar name, and the meaning is not apparent.
While multiple theories exist, we did a deep dive some time ago to discover the name of Pickleball’s true origin. It turns out pickleball comes from pickle boats.
Joel Pritchard’s wife Joan called the sport pickleball as she saw comparisons between the leftover equipment they used to create the game with the leftover oarsmen from pickle boat races.
Looking at the history of pickleball, we never would have guessed that it would have grown into such a popular sport today. To think it all started as a makeshift badminton game made up by a bored congressman — it defies belief!
Yet I find it very satisfying knowing that it was born from the imagination of people like us simply because they were bored and lacked equipment. This shows the potential of new sports and demonstrates that if you have a good idea, you should run with it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Invented Pickleball?
Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard, businessman Bill Bell, and inventor and entrepreneur Barney McCallum invented Pickleball.
What Year Was Pickleball Invented?
Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965.
Where Did Pickleball Originate?
The origination of pickleball takes place in Joel Pritchard’s residence. There, he alongside his family and friends, came up with the game.
How Long Has Pickleball Been Around?
Pickleball first began in 1965, so it has been around for over five decades.
How Did Pickleball Start?
The origin of pickleball is a story of improvisation. The creators did not set out to make the sport. Rather, they had a badminton court but no badminton gear. Therefore, they equipped what sports equipment they had and came up with a game of their own.