A Brief History of Pool and Billiards

Did you know that Pool and Billiards were mentioned in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra? That was in 1674. This shows how popular was the game during that period. Since the 15th century, the game has evolved and changed a lot but the only common feature was people’s love and interest in the game. Let’s take a look and see how the game started and who has contributed to the history of pool and billiards. 

When Were Pool and Billiards Invented?

The history of billiards and pool tables can be traced back to the 15th century. This game initially started as an outdoor game then became an indoor one. It was common in Europe and was played by kings. Later on, it was common among people from different societies and social classes.

Who Invented Pool and Billiards?

There isn’t a particular name that we can relate to when we mention Pool invention. However, there are some significant people who have added to the game. John Wesley Hyatt invented the composite billiard ball. He was the first one to come up with plastic when he discovered celluloid in 1869. This was initiated by a $10,000 prize to substitute ivory in making billiard balls. Another major contributor is Captain Mingaud, who invented the modern cue tip and masse shots. That was in the early 1800s while he was in prison. 

We should also mention John M.Brunswick, who was a Swiss immigrant and woodworker in the US. He built a table factory in 1845, that later became the largest billiard company in the world. It was named “Goliath”.

Early Pool and Billiards Equipment

Since the 15th century, lots of changes and development took place in the equipment used to play pool and the materials used to make them. Let’s take a look.

The First Pool Tables

The first recorded pool table was owned by King Louis XI of France in 1470. After being an indoor game, there was a suggestion to use a green cloth over the table to imitate grass. The table’s body was made of wood and all the edges were covered to prevent the ball from falling. The edges were called banks and when players hit shots, they were called bank shots. Wood was replaced by slate in 1835 due to its durability and because it doesn’t warp like wood over time. Concerning the table’s size, until the 18th century, there wasn’t a fixed dimension. But later, a 2:1 ratio of length to width became the standard.

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The First Ball Cues (Maces)

Originally, balls were shoved instead of being struck. This was done by a wooden stick called maces. Around the late 1600s, a cue stick was developed to replace maces. Maces were found to be inconvenient when the ball was close to the rail because of the large head. Players had to turn the mace around and use its handle for striking the ball.

For a while, women weren’t allowed to use the cue and it was used only by men. Women kept using the mace because it was softer on the cloth. Later on, chalk was used to increase the friction between the ball and the cue stick, which improved the performance. Then by the 18th century, a leather part was added to the cue tip. This made players apply side-spin, back-spin, and top-spin. Until 1829, all the cues were only a single shaft, but later two-piece cue was invented. The word cue was derived from the french “queue” which means a tail, and that refers to the handle.

The First Pool Balls

The earliest balls were made of wood as it was inexpensive. However, when Europe started colonizing Africa and Asia, they used exotic materials from these lands. Balls were made from ivory from elephants’ tusks. This was popular among the upper classes of the 17th century. It reflected wealth. Although ivory balls were more beautiful than wood, they weren’t durable. Their colors faded and became yellow with time, cracked when it was humid, and broke if they were struck hard. Moreover, elephants became threatened because of the excessive ivory used as the demand increased for this game.

A solution was needed and here came the role of Hyatt who combined camphor, nitrocellulose, and alcohol. This was molded under extreme pressure to become a ball. However, it was a poor option and wasn’t durable. In 1907, Bakelite was invented by Phelan Leo. Bakelite is a plastic-like substance that was strong, durable, produced easily and was safe. 

Pool and Billiards In The 21st Century

When we mention the word pool room now, we refer to the place where the pool is played. However, in the 19th century, it referred to a place for betting on horse races. It also was a place that gathered smoke, fight and bet.

For that reason, the game was dominated by men and it wasn’t acceptable for women to stay in such places. Currently, women can easily participate in the game without fear or shame. Concerning the billiard table, it’s still made of slate. Which hadn’t changed since old times, but of course modifications took place.

The pool balls changed drastically. Now they are made from polyester or resin. Resin is the best material because it resists scratch and it’s not commonly used. Only 1 ball maker uses resin to manufacture billiard balls.

Summing Up:

This game was common between kings and the royal family, then it included all people from different sectors. Moreover, Billiards was the first sport in history to have a world championship in 1873. Throughout the years, billiards had lots of strange and fun incidents that will always be remarkable. For instance, in 1586, the castle of Mary the Scottish queen was captured. Things quickly became dramatic and the invaders conquered her. But, she was respectably covered in her revered pool table’s cloth. Billiards was regarded as a sinful, corrupt and dangerous game by the church. In France, both the church and the king prohibited playing billiards during the 15th century. Now millions of people worldwide enjoy it. As you can see, there’s a long and colorful history of pool and billiards.   

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