Did you know that Shakespeare refers to billiards? Or did the English upper class play table tennis on their dining tables with improvised equipment? As humans, we have been very good at taking outdoor games and adapting them to be played indoors on a table. The history of modern gaming tables is really quite interesting!
It is sometimes interesting to look at something that has existed for as long as we can remember, something we may not think about often, and discover history. Today, there are many different types of gaming tables on the market, but did you know that gaming tables originate from outdoor games that were played on the ground? And that gaming tables have been around for hundreds of years?
A History of the Game of Billiards aka Pool
Now the exact origin of table games is unknown, but the first specific reference to a game table is in 1470, when the French king Louis XI owned a variant of a pool table. Although its origins are unknown, the three best options are England, France and Persia, and the earliest table games were the ancestors of modern billiards or pool. William Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra (1606-1607), mentions this play with the line “Let’s play billiards.”
So how did it all start? Believe it or not, a version of a game that is still enjoyed today on many family barbecue hooks, croquet, is where it originated. Versions of the croquet have been around for hundreds of years and were quite popular entertainment. But it was seasonal. To play all year round on the court, the game was moved in. Although we can only speculate, it was probably some member of a royal family who had a bad back, and all the bending to knock the balls did no one any favors. The game was reduced and placed on a table. With the problem of the balls rolling off, it probably did not take long to add edges to the table, and in the 17th century, rubber was added to the edges to protect the wood and give extra bounce to the balls. Thin, green (grass color!) Cloth, usually felt or wool, was then added, which made the players shot more accurately, and I imagine it reduced the amount of random scrolling that would occur on wood. In the early 1800s, wood was replaced by slate, which made the tables more solid and smoother.
The Game of Pool
In croquet, the goal was to shoot your ball through a series of hoops, and then knock once at the end of the court. Many of the early game tables also had objects to knock a ball through, and some did not. In the second version, the goal was often to knock the player’s ball with the queue and then make it bounce off the side to hit another ball. This type of cue sport (called Carom billiards) is still today and is played on pool tables without pockets. But early on it did not take long before holes were added to the tables to replace obstacles with a net under the hole to catch the ball. In fact, King Louis’ pool table had a hole in the middle. This developed over the years into two holes, one at each end, and eventually into the six pool tables that are common today.
With the beginning of the innovative 20th century, many other types of gaming tables were invented. After all, if you can play croquet indoors at a table, what more? Well, hockey was brought indoors to a frictionless table surface in the early 1970s, and air hockey was born.
When it comes to football, you can probably guess that it was first invented in England. In 1922, an avid fan wanted to offer an indoor game that repeated the sport he loved. Although there were similar table games as football as early as the 1890s.
Table tennis also has its origins in England in the 1880s. Victorian upper class, in search of after-dinner entertainment, used everyday things to serve as the equipment needed: books for a net, a cork for a ball, and a cigar box lid that racked. Ping Pong grew in popularity quite quickly. Over the course of 20 years, books were written about the game, and the unofficial first world championship was held in 1902.
Today, gaming tables are found in homes, clubs, schools, pubs and offices around the world, providing hours of joy and relaxation to millions of people. Some of the things in the story and trivia are fascinating and may explain some of the idiosyncrasies found in the various games (such as how snooker got its name). And although there is still a lot I do not know about many of these games, there is one thing I do know, I will never look at the croquet in the same way again!
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