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While earlier versions of bowling may not look exactly like the modern version, the origins of bowling can be traced about 4,000 years back to Rome and Greece, and some clues suggest the sport may have even earlier origins.

Nevertheless, not much information on the early evolution of bowling exists until about 2,000 years ago, when a similar game that entailed tossing stone objects as close to other stone objects as possible was documented.  This game became popular with Roman soldiers, and eventually evolved into what we call bocce, or outdoor bowling.

antique bowling pin Modern bowling also has some roots in old German religious ceremonies.  In fact, this is most likely where today's pins were introduced.  In these ceremonies, parishioners were instructed to place their kegels — a pin-resembling item that most Germans carried for protection and sport — at the end of a long lane.  They were then instructed to roll a rock at the kegel.  If they knocked the kegel over, their sins were absolved.  Martin Luther was an avid bowler, and he set up a couple of lanes in his back yard so that he and his children could enjoy it as sport.

Bowling became very popular in Britain as early as the 1300s, and was a favorite pastime of King Edward III's soldiers.  It is thought that the game was brought indoors in England during the 1400s.

vintage rubber bowling ball Bowling was brought to the United States by Europeans who settled in the New World.  During Colonial times bowling, which was then called "nine pins" because of the number of pins used, was banned.  Why?  Because it was associated with drinking and gambling.

In 1840, some of the first indoor bowling lanes — called Knickerbocker Alleys — were built in New York City.  Soon, more and more indoor bowling alleys cropped up throughout the country.  In addition to bowling, these lanes also served as gambling centers.  When laws were put into place to outlaw what was then called "nine-pins," someone added a tenth pin and renamed it bowling to keep the sport alive.

The extra pin and the new name gave bowling a new lease on life.  No longer the sport of gamblers, it was now enjoyed by men, women, and children in a more wholesome environment.  By the end of the 1800s, there were more than 200 indoor ten-pin bowling alleys in New York alone.

ten bowling pins During the late 1800s, more standardized rules were put into play as bowling became a competitive sport.  In 1901, the National Bowling Congress held its first championship tournament.  Around this time, competitions designed solely for women were also organized.  As the sport grew, innovations such as bowling balls with drilled holes and automatic pinspotters revolutionized the sport.  The Professional Bowlers Association was formed and went on tour in 1959, and enjoyed impressive television ratings during its heyday.

Today, more than 60 million Americans enjoy bowling at least once a year, and there are several variations of the game depending upon ball and pin size, including duckpins and candlepins.


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History of Bowling - Origins of Bowling