Bowling, the sport of throwing a heavy ball down a lane and knocking over pins, has been around for centuries, and has become one of America's most democratic pastimes. Often referred to as the "great cultural leveler," bowling is affordable, allows for the participation of both genders, all ages, skill levels, and classes, and encourages a social camaraderie rare in other competitive sports. In fact, an instructional book written in 1987 said that "one of the greatest benefits of bowling is the development of friendships."
Bowling became widely popular almost as soon as it reached the shores of America, in the early 1800s. The Dutch, Germans, and English helped establish the sport in American colonies. English bowls, or lawn bowling, a sport for blue-bloods, was played outdoors on a bowling green. But the modern form of American bowling derives mainly from the German game of Kegelspiel, or kegeling, which used nine pins set in a diamond formation. By the 1800s, kegeling Germans established New York as the country's "bowling capital." Kegeling, unlike lawn bowling, was enjoyed by German peasants; this reputation as a common-man's sport has characterized bowling throughout its American history. The first indoor alley, Knickerbocker's in New York City, was built in 1840; soon after this, various establishments attracted the lower classes and genteel alike. By the mid-1800s nine-pins became a widely played sport, and even reached the midwest.
After the Civil War, more Germans began their own clubs with bowling lanes, and tried to establish these as clean and family-oriented places. Their efforts at constructing wholesome reputations for their alleys were largely in vain, as most remained dark places located in saloon basements alongside alcohol consumption, gambling, and prostitution. Reformers' attempts to outlaw nine-pins at the end of the nineteenth century, it is fabled, caused alley owners to add an extra pin.
John Brunswick founded the Brunswick Corporation in 1845, which manufactured billiard tables and fine bar fixtures. In 1884 Brunswick added bowling equipment to his line, becoming the first manufacturer of his kind in America. In 1914, he introduced the Mineralite ball made of hard rubber and organized a world tour with which to promote it; considered so revolutionary, the ball was put on display at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1934.
At the turn of the century most bowling alleys were small establishments that provided the working classes with much needed, if less than wholesome, recreation. The cultural impetus toward rationalization and organization at the end of the nineteenth century also influenced bowling. By the 1880s and 1890s people attempted to standardize the rules and the play, and to improve the reputation of individual alleys and of the sport as a whole. Bowling associations were formed in order to attract more female bowlers. In 1887 A.G. Spalding, who was instrumental in forming baseball's National League, wrote Standard Rules for Bowling in the United States.
It was Joe Thum, however, who created what most resembled twentieth-century lanes, and therefore became known as the "father of bowling." In 1886 he opened his first successful alley in the basement of his Bavarian restaurant in New York City. In 1891 he built six lanes in Germania Hall, and in 1901 he opened the world's most elegant alley, "The White Elephant," which featured state-of the-art lanes, electric lighting, and extravagant interior design in order to redefine bowling as a genteel sport, and to compete with other upper-class recreational areas of the time, like theaters and opera houses.
Thum also encouraged other smaller alley owners to adopt standard rules. By the mid-1890s the United Bowling Clubs (UBC) was organized and had 120 members. The American Bowling Congress (ABC), bowling's official governing body, was established in 1895, and held its first tournament in 1901. Women's bowling evolved alongside men's, with the first women's leagues appearing in 1907, and the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) instituted in the 1910s. These bodies continued to push for standardized rules and regulations for the sport, and also maintained the quest to improve the image of the sport, which was still considered a dirty and tawdry pastime chiefly for lower-class gamblers and drinkers.
The various bowling organizations were successful in determining standards for bowling play and the alleys themselves, which have remained constant throughout the twentieth century. Each lane consists of a pin area, the lane itself, and the approach. Ten pins, each 15 inches high and 5 inches at their widest point and made of wood covered with hard plastic, are arranged twelve inches apart in an equilateral triangle at the far end of the lane. Each lane is 41 1/2 inches wide, 62 5/6 feet long, made of maple and pine, and bordered by two gutters. The balls themselves, which are rolled at the pins, are of hard rubber or plastic, at most 27 inches in circumference, and between eight and sixteen pounds. Each player's turn consists of a "frame"—two chances to knock down all of the pins. Knocking down all ten pins on the first try is a strike, while succeeding with two balls is a spare. Because the scores for strikes and spares are compounded, a perfect game in bowling is 300 points.
By 1920 there were about 450 ABC-sanctioned alleys, a number which grew to about 2,000 by 1929. Prohibition led to the trend of "dry" alleys, and once again helped define the sport as one fit for the entire family. The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 caused an almost immediate push by the breweries for sponsorship. Anxious to get their company names in newspaper sports pages by subsidizing local bowling leagues, beer makers such as Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, Stroh's, and Budweiser attached their names to teams and individual bowlers, forever cementing bowling's reputation as a working-class sport. Beer-drinking has remained an activity stereotypically associated with bowling; among some players, the fifth frame has been dubbed the "beer frame" and requires the lowest scorer in that frame to buy a round of drinks for the other players.
Also after Prohibition, bowling lanes shifted in style from the fancy Victorian venues and the seedier saloon locales to more independent establishments that embraced the modern Art Deco style. As bowling chronicler Howard Stallings has noted, "The imagery and implements of bowling—the glossy, hard ball speeding down a super-slick blonde, wooden surface, smashing into mathematically arranged, streamlined pins—meshed perfectly with the era's 'need for speed,' the aerodynamic zeitgeist, if you will."
Throughout its history, bowling has remained an affordable sport for the common person. Alleys were located close by, the special shoes needed could be rented, balls were provided by the alley, and the fee for the games themselves was very affordable. It is no surprise, then, that the sport prospered during the Depression and war years, remaining a viable respite for people taxed by financial and emotional burdens. At this time larger institutions also noticed the potential healthful benefits of bowling, causing many alleys to be built in church basements, lodge halls, student unions, industrial plants, and even private homes.
The late 1940s through the 1960s proved to be the golden age of bowling. In 1947 Harry Truman installed lanes in the White House, helping bowling's continual legitimating process among the various classes even more, and defining it as a true national pastime. The same year also saw the first bowling telecast, which helped popularize the sport even more—ABC membership for that year was 1,105,000 (a figure which would grow to 4,575,000 in 1963), and sanctioned individual lanes numbered 44,500 (up to 159,000 by 1963). By 1949, there were over 6,000 bowling centers nationwide. Television proved the perfect medium for bowling because games were easy to shoot and inexpensive to produce. They also fostered the careers of famous bowlers like Don Carter, Earl Anthony, and Dick and Pete Weber. Described as a "quiz show with muscle," the televised bowling program was ubiquitous in the 1950s, and included such telecasts as Celebrity Bowling, Make That Spare, Bowling for Dollars, ABC's Pro Bowler's Tour, and Jackpot Bowling, hosted by Milton Berle. By 1958 bowling had become a $350,000,000 industry.
Other factors also contributed to bowling's wide-scale success in the 1950s. The automatic pinsetter patented by Gottfried Schmidt and purchased by AMF (American Machine and Foundry) in 1945, was first put into use in 1952, when the first fully operational system was installed. This marked a revolution in alley technology, because owners and players were no longer reliant on the "pin boys" to reset the pins manually. These young workers, who had the dangerous job of standing at the end of the alley dodging balls and careening pins, were often ill-behaved delinquents and troublemakers. The automatic pinsetter made pin resetting and ball retrieval safer, faster, and reliable, making the game itself more fluid. Brunswick produced their first pinsetter in 1955, and also added air conditioning to their new alleys.
In the late 1950s the alleys themselves became more luxurious, incorporating the latest design trends and materials, with tables and seats made of brightly-colored Formica and looking like something from outer space. A 1959 issue of Life magazine described the modern bowling alley as an "all-purpose pleasure palace." Indeed, much like drive-in theaters, they tried to be all things for all family members, offering services like child care and beauty parlors, and containing carpeted lobbies, restaurants, cocktail lounges, and billiard tables. League play at this time was also at its peak, affording regular and organized opportunities for various groups to form teams and bowl in "friendly competition."
As the 1960s came to an end, bowling alleys experienced the end of their golden age. Bowling, still rooted in working-class ethics and camaraderie, could not compete with larger and more exciting spectator sports. This era also marked the decline of serious league play as dedicated bowlers were growing older and younger potential bowlers were opting for other recreational activities that took them out of doors, like jogging and tennis. In spite of this decline, about 79 million people went bowling in 1993, and it was still the most popular participatory sport in the United States, confirming its overwhelming popularity only a few decades before.
As a sport with an indelible blue-collar image, bowling has achieved the status of being an "everyman's" sport, more synonymous with the American individual character than baseball. It is a uniquely non-competitive sport in which people try to better their own games more than beating others, who are usually friends or family members. In the 1990s it experienced a resurgence in popularity due to its "retro" image, and was a key element in the comedy movies Kingpin and The Big Lebowski.
Harrison, Joyce M., and Ron Maxey. Bowling. Glenview, Illinois, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1987.
Luby, Mort. The History of Bowling. Chicago, Luby Publishing, 1983.
Schunk, Carol. Bowling. Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Company, 1976.
Stallings, Howard. The Big Book of Bowling. Salt Lake City, Gibbs Smith, 1995.
Steele, H. Thomas. Bowl-O-Rama. New York, Abbeville Press, 1986.
Knocking down objects by rolling a ball is an activity that has attracted players in many countries all over the world throughout the years. The tombs of the ancient Egyptians contained equipment for a bowling-type game, demonstrating that its popularity dates back at least 7,000 years. There are also records of a centuries-old bowling game in the Polynesian Islands.
The modern sport of bowling, as it is known in the United States, probably evolved from a third-century A.D. religious ceremony in Germany. At that time, all peasants carried a "Kegel," a club used for protection. Many churches challenged their parishioners to test their faith by rolling a stone at their Kegel in an attempt to knock it down. If they hit the target, they were considered chaste and free from sin.
Over time, the game became secularized and moved away from the churches. By the thirteenth century, balls replaced the stones, and multiple pins replaced the single Kegel. These modifications to "kegel" may have been influenced by a northern Italian game called "bowls." The new game called "ninepins" spread to the Netherlands and England in the 1300s. As the sport's popularity grew, people started placing bets on the outcomes of matches. In fact, Berlin and Cologne established a maximum limit on bets in 1325. It became so popular by the Middle Ages that indoor bowling centers called Kegelbahns in Germany were often built adjacent to local gathering places like inns and taverns.
As bowling spread to other European cities, laws and edicts were enacted to control participation in the activities surrounding bowling. While most of the laws were enacted to control gambling, there were exceptions. One of England's kings banned the activity because it distracted the troops from their archery training. Around 1555, bowling centers, as well as inns and taverns, were sometimes used as meeting places for revolutionaries. Because of their role related to the civil unrest and rebellion in Western Europe, they were considered places of "unlawful assembly" and were sometimes shut down.
The "problems" associated with bowling extended across the Atlantic Ocean to North America as European settlers moved to the New World. In 1611, in the Jamestown, Virginia, colony, it was reported that, even though food was scarce and people were starving, the colonists were enjoying bowling. A law was quickly passed that condemned anyone caught bowling to three weeks in the stockade.
The form of bowling that is believed to be the fore-runner of modern ten-pin bowling was the Dutch game of nine-pins. In the early 1600s, Dutch colonists set up nine pins in a diamond shape, 1-2-3-2-1, at the end of an alley. This alley was a plank, ninety feet (twenty-seven meters) long and about eighteen inches (forty-six centimeters) wide. In the mid-1800s, nine-pin bowling was banned in Connecticut because of the gambling that accompanied its practice. It has been speculated that ten-pin bowling was invented to "get around the law." In addition to the extra pin, the shape of the pins changed from tall and slender to the heavier, bottle-shaped pins used today.
By 1850, the number of bowling alleys in New York City had grown to more than 400. After that time, bowling's popularity decreased for a few years. Blame for the decrease in popularity was attributed to the prevalence of gambling and the new, larger pins that made bowling too easy.
In order to create profits, early bowling alleys in the 1880s and 1890s, primarily in New York City, organized bowling leagues that took place after many "blue-collar" employees got out of work. Many of these league teams were comprised of coworkers who were sponsored by their employers. This pattern of league participation was assisted by long-term stable employment and fixed work schedules. At the same time German immigrants moving to midwestern cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee were also establishing leagues and clubs.
The National Bowling Association (NBA) was established in 1875. While it standardized the rules of bowling, it failed in its attempt to eliminate gambling among its members and folded several years later. In 1895, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was founded. Under this organization's leadership bowling became popular and respectable. As prize money, supplied by member leagues and the ABC, began to be awarded at local, regional, and national levels for outstanding scores, gambling became less prevalent.
In the early 1900s, women began bowling in large numbers. The Women's National Bowling Association (WNBA) held its first national championship in 1917, only a year after it was founded. In 1971, it changed its name to the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC).
During the 1960s and 1970s, bowling's popularity soared partially because large bowling events like the Professional Bowling Association (PBA) Tour were televised. In the early 2000s, major bowling membership organizations included the ABC and WIBC, as well as the Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA) and USA Bowling. Representatives from the four organizations met 1–2 November 2003 to discuss the details of a merger. The representatives came to a consensus on the plan. Two of the organizations (ABC and WIBC) voted to approve the revised plan. The other two organizations (YABA and USA Bowling) were to vote on the merger by May 2004.
Technological advances in the 1950s provided for physical and demographic changes in the sport of bowling. The invention of the automatic pin-setting machine allowed for quicker reset time between bowls, which appealed to larger numbers of participants. Shoe manufacturers like Capezio introduced lines of bowling shoes, and television and print marketing campaigns depicted "society ladies" bowling. The public relations campaigns helped make bowling popular to a wide variety of socioeconomic classes.
The invention of computers also helped revolutionize the way people bowled. Previously, people tallied and added their scores by hand. With computers, the scores are automatically entered and calculated, so people who do not know the rules for scoring can still play without advance preparation.
In 1976, over 25 percent of the U.S. population participated in bowling; over the next fifteen years that participation rate dropped to 14.5 percent because of the larger number of activities that competed for people's time and entertainment budgets. League play was too demanding for most people's schedules. During the five years from 1991 to 1996, there was a resurgence in popularity, with participation rates moving back toward 20 percent. This resurgence may have been due to increases in bowling technology (computer-generated scores), availability of bowling centers for special events (birthday parties, corporate celebrations), and marketing to young people (gutter blockers for young children, glow in the dark bowling and laser light shows). It is interesting to note, however, that the number of "regular bowlers" dropped from 31 to 21 percent, while the number of "occasional bowlers" increased from 56 to 69 percent (Kelly and Warnick; Simmons). This shift reflects the impact of more irregular weekly schedules and a decline in the number of leagues. Bowling centers have tried to improve league participation numbers by shortening league play (sixteen weeks) or making the games every other week instead of every week. They also have changed the times to earlier in the evening so that people can get home sooner.
By the early 2000s, fewer and fewer people worked a "typical" eight-hour workday. This change in work schedules along with other societal shifts changed the patterns of participation in modern-day bowling. The activity that once consisted primarily of weekly league competitions shifted to small groups of occasional drop-in bowlers, "couple bowling," and special events. One impact of this shift is the increased emphasis on bowling as a social activity rather than as a sport.
See also: Professionalization of Sport
Burgin, Sandy. "Bowling, Once a Mainstay, Competes More for Its Players. But the Numbers Are Still Strong." 24 May 2000. Available from http://www.hickoksports.com.
Kelly, John R., and Rodney B. Warnick. Recreation Trends and Markets: The 21st Century. Champaign, Ill.: Sagamore Publishing, 1999.
Mood, Dale P., Frank F. Musker, and Judith E. Rink. Sports and Recreational Activities. 13th edition. Boston, Mass.: McGraw Hill, 2003.
"News from the Fast Lane." Available from http://www.bowl.com.
Simmons Market Research Bureau. "Study of Media and Markets." New York, 1995.
Tammie L. Stenger and Sarah E. Hardin
Bowling is one of the world's simplest sports: the object of the game is to roll a ball with force at a set of target pins, endeavoring to knock over as many as possible. It is for this reason that forms of bowling have been played in many cultures for thousands of years. There is evidence that a primitive form of bowling was played in ancient Egypt at least as early as 3000 BC. The early German Christian monks bowled. Italian bocce is similar in concept to bowling. The English played games that evolved into modern bowling and the outdoor sport of lawn bowling through the Middle Ages; Sir Francis Drake is reputed to have awaited the coming of the Spanish Armada by playing a game of bowling.
The modern game of bowling was developed in the United States as a result of the import of various forms by its early settlers. The first reference to bowling being played in America is likely contained in the famous Washington Irving (1783–1859) story, Rip Van Winkle, published in 1819, in which Van Winkle, asleep for 20 years, is described as awakening to the sound of "nine pins," a Dutch variant of bowling.
Bowling gained considerable popularity in the United States into the 1890s. The 10-pin variation of the game was the most popular, and in 1895, the American Bowling Congress was formed. The early 10-pin games were played with wooden pins and a wooden ball. There was no mechanization of the bowling lane, and all pins had to be reset by hand, a task usually performed by a "pin boy."
The first significant technological development occurred in 1905, with the development of a durable, hard rubber bowling ball. The construction of the ball permitted it to be thrown harder and with greater effect at the standing pins. In 1914, the first hard composite rubber ball was manufactured, a still greater advance in the ability of the bowler to play effectively. In 1952, the first automated pin setting machine was developed. The automation of the bowling lane coincided with the advent of televised bowling competitions in the United States. The popularity of televised bowling spurred a boom in participation and the construction of bowling lanes across the country. Bowling was perceived as a sport that was both inexpensive and accessible to the average person, as well as one providing high level competition opportunities for skilled players. In 1961, the Pro Bowlers Tour began, sponsoring large prize money tournaments in cities across the United States.
Bowling had enjoyed a parallel popularity in many countries during the growth enjoyed by American bowling. In Canada, a 5-pin variant was invented in 1909, and in many Canadian centers both 10-pin and 5-pin games were played. The international bowling governing body, known by its French language name, the Federation National des Quilleurs (FIQ), was founded in 1952. It maintains authority over the 10-pin bowling game played in the United States and throughout the world, as well as the nine-pin game played mainly in Europe. The FIQ has a membership of over 120 countries, and while bowling is not a medal sport in the Olympics, the FIQ has been recognized as a full member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1979.
Whether contested in a 5-pin, 9-pin, or 10-pin format, the object of modern bowling has remained constant throughout its history: to knock down as many pins as possible with as few bowls as possible. The 10-pin game is the best example of the rules, strategies, and training procedures that exemplify bowling. Ten pins may be played as a head to head competition, or in a team format.
The 10-pin lane is 60 ft (18 m), measured from the first pin (the head pin) and the foul line, behind which the bowler's feet must be positioned when the ball is delivered. The lane is 3.5 ft (1.2 m) wide, and it is typically constructed from either highly polished wooden panels or an equally slick, frictionless synthetic material. Bowlers wear specialized shoes constructed with a sole that permits the bowler to slide along the surface when delivering of the ball. The lane is bordered on each side by gutters; if the ball enters the gutter, it will not score.
The ball must not exceed 16 lb (7.3 kg) in weight, nor may it be greater than 27 in (70 cm) in circumference. The ball must be constructed to be 100% solid, except for the permitted finger holes bored into the ball to permit the bowler to secure a firm grip. The smooth surface of the ball (usually a plastic composite material) and the construction of the lane creates very little friction on the ball when it is delivered.
The pins are set in an equilateral triangular shape, with each pin placed precisely 12 in (0.3 m) from each other. The pins are set by an automated machine, and the toppled pins are swept out of the lane by the machine between the first and second bowls.
The scoring of a 10-pin game is straightforward. The game is divided into 10 competitive segments, known as frames. In each frame, a bowler is permitted two bowls to knock down the assembled pins. If the bowler does not strike down all of the pins with the two deliveries, the points scored for the frame are the number of pins knocked down. If the bowler knocks down all of the pins using both bowls, a spare is scored, where the bowler scores 10 for the frame plus a bonus, calculated as the score for the first ball in the next frame. When the bowler knocks down all 10 pins with the first ball in a frame, a strike is scored; a strike is counted as 10 points, plus a bonus from the next two balls. For successive strikes, the bonus scores are cumulative, meaning that in a 10-frame game, with bonuses, a player can conceivably roll 30 strikes for a perfect game of 300.
Bowling has a significant physical and mental component when contested at a competitive level. There are a number of different accepted approaches to the delivery of the ball and the accompanying footwork needed to best combine power and accuracy. No matter what approach is employed, bowling is a classic repetitive-type activity, with the ball delivered from a crouched position that has the potential to place significant strain on the structures of the wrist, elbow, shoulder, and lumbar regions.
The wrist is the joint most vulnerable to injury in bowling. The 16 lb (7.3 kg) ball is released at the end of a sweeping arc motion, where the bowler draws the ball back past the waist, so as to create additional distance through which the ball may be accelerated prior to release. The arm and wrist of the bowler are taken through an eccentric motion, where all of the forces of delivery are radiated through the wrist. When the wrist is itself not stable at the time that those forces are received, the tendons of the wrist, which connect the muscles of the forearm to the hand, and the ligaments of the carpal bones of the wrist joint have the potential to be overstretched; in time, this overstretching can cause a micro-tearing of these connective tissues. Many bowlers wear custom-fitted orthotics on the wrist of the throwing hand to provide extra stability to the joint in its repetitive motion.
Although the aerobic requirements of the sport itself are modest, bowling requires a high level of focus and mental concentration and a well-developed ability to manage stress. Aerobic fitness will assist the bowler in maintaining a heart rate that will contribute to effective stress management. Stretching and flexibility exercises are also important to the prevention of muscle strains that are associated with the repetitive throwing and footwork required.
Many elite bowlers employ different forms of mental training, including the visualization of their successful shots. A bowling alley has a number of highly distinctive sounds associated with success: the sound of the ball as it travels down the lane, the distinctive collision between the ball and the pins, and the sound of the pins falling. Visualization will seek to include all of these auditory clues in the visual image to be conjured as the bowlers concentrate on the next successful shot.
As the physical demands of bowling are less than those encountered in many elite sports, with a mental component that can be developed with experience, bowling is a sport where its best competitors may continue to perform at a high level into their 40s.
BOWLING. According to archaeological evidence, ancient Egyptians played a game similar to bowling in 3200 b.c. The game was popular in medieval Europe, and American colonists bowled in the streets of Jamestown, but the modern tenpin game developed with the German immigrant community in America in the mid-nineteenth century. Most bowling alleys were located in saloon basements, and the game's association with drunkenness,
violence, and gambling quickly earned it an unsavory reputation.
Prohibition severed the direct connection between saloons and bowling, but the game still struggled with its image problem. The "pin boys" who cleared and reset pins and returned balls after each roll were a public-relations disaster. The dangerous and demanding work paid very little, and in general, only vagrants and young teenagers would take the job. Child welfare advocates condemned bowling alleys as sweatshops teeming with immoral influences.
The invention of the automatic pinsetter in 1951 had a great impact on the game. No longer reliant on unpredictable labor, alley proprietors saw an opportunity to expand their market beyond league bowlers, and they advertised the game as good clean family fun. Glitzy recreation centers with cheerful names such as "Bowl-ODrome" and "Victory Bowling" opened in shopping plazas throughout the country. Many featured Laundromats and nurseries to serve the family needs of suburban consumers, and a few even banned alcohol to encourage parents to think of the lanes as a safe place for their kids. Now packaged as "the people's country clubs," bowling alleys grew increasingly extravagant. Chicago's Holiday Bowl Recreation maintained sixty-four lanes, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and tennis courts. In 1958, the Professional Bowlers Association, which organizes about twenty tournaments each year, was created to capitalize on the success of television broadcasts. By the late 1960s, however, the bowling boom was over.
Still, the game remains one of America's most popular pastimes, and it has become a powerful if contested cultural symbol. Many artists and writers use bowling, especially the sweat-stained embroidered bowling shirt, to represent suburban conservatism and provincialism. But Robert Putnam's influential book Bowling Alone, which laments the decline of "social capital" in the United States, employs bowling as a metaphor for a less crassly individualistic era.
Hurley, Andrew. Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in the Postwar Consumer Culture. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Luby, Mort Jr. "The History of Bowling." Bowlers Journal 70, no. 11 (1983): 102–159.
Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
Although its origins are in Europe, bowling has long been known as the common man's sport in the United States. Played in bowling alleys, the game consists of throwing a heavy ball (often weighing ten to sixteen pounds) down a wooden lane to knock over a set of ten wooden pins set in the form of a triangle. It became especially popular among the American working class because it was a cheap sport to play, but it has also attracted people at all levels of income.
Bowling arrived in the United States in the early 1800s, and it developed over the decades into a uniform sport with its own rules, dress, atmosphere, and organization: the American Bowling Congress. By the 1920s, bowling was an established presence in American life, but the heyday of bowling did not occur until the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s when bowling became a cultural phenomenon. Part of its success came because working class Americans had more leisure time after World War II (1939–45), and bowling was an inexpensive sport that was fairly easy to learn but challenging enough to keep people working to improve their skill level. It was also promoted on television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3), increasing its visibility. Automated pin setting and ball returns added to the ease of play as well.
More important was bowling's influence on American social life. Bowling was a participatory sport that was also a social one. Although it was competitive, it also fostered team camaraderie because players formed leagues of teams that competed against one another. The pace of the game allowed players to relax between turns, enjoy a beer and some snacks, and talk to their teammates and opponents. Because it was not a contact sport, women were attracted to the game and were welcomed by men more so than in baseball (see entry under 1900s—Sports and Games in volume 1), football, or other rougher sports. Bowling alleys also grew into family entertainment centers with game rooms for the kids, snack bars, equipment shops, and other amenities. Bowling declined in popularity after 1970 due to competition from other sports and less interest from younger people. Author Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, used the declining interest in bowling as an indicator of a major shift in American social values away from communal activities to solitary ones, and not always with good results. That insight offered further proof of bowling's important place in the history of American leisure and social life.
For More Information
Luby, Mort. The History of Bowling. Chicago: Luby Publishing, 1983.
Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of AmericanCommunity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
Steele, H. Thomas. Bowl-O-Rama. New York: Abbeville Press, 1986.
bowl·ing / ˈbōling/ • n. 1. the game of tenpin bowling as a sport or recreation. ∎ the game of candlepin or duckpin bowling. ∎ the game of lawn bowling. ∎ the game of skittles. 2. Cricket the delivery of the ball.