There’s no doubt bowling has been around for a very long time. Just how long? You might be surprised.
In 1895 while researching an ancient egyptian grave, British archeologist Flinders Petrie discovered a group of heavy stone balls. If Petrie was correct that they were bowling balls, then bowling would date all the way back to 3200 BC. In that grave a group of heavy stone balls were found as well as nine vase-shaped stones. The vase-shaped stones were only flat on the bottom, which led Flinders to believe they were stood up, and the balls (which were heavy) were rolled at them. Since the balls and vases were found separately, it’s hard to determine whether or not this was the first instance of bowling. It could have just been coincidental that these objects were found together.
The first historical documentation of bowling according to the PBA (Professional Bowler’s Association) is back in 300 AD Germany. It was said that bowling was used as part of a religious ceremony. Whoever could knock down the pins was of good character, and those who missed had to confess their sins. Can you imagine if we still had to do that? I’d be in Church after every game.
A century later in England, bowling was something of an exclusive sport. King Henry VIII and his advisors were known to be fans of lawn bowling. They would go out into the royal gardens and throw “bowls” or balls around the large open lawns. These were the same areas where jousting, wrestling, and tennis took place. King Edward III was known to have outlawed bowling because his troops kept choosing to bowl instead of practicing their archery. He also banned bowling for everyone except the upper class, because so many working men were neglecting their trades.
Throughout the colonial era, bowling kept growing in popularity. In Connecticut in 1841, a law was passed prohibiting nine-pin bowling because of all the gambling and crime associated with it. The people couldn’t stand it, so they decided to add a tenth pin to bypass the law. This created the ten-pin format we all know and love today. In 1895 the American Bowling Congress, a national organization was created to regulate rules and create national bowling competitions.
By 1945 ten-pin bowling became a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone. The next year AMF (American Machine and Foundry) released the first fully automatic commercial pinsetter. Before then, a person would stand by the pins and set them by hand. The pinsetter, or pinspotter, had to clear fallen pins and return the balls. So, when the automatic pinsetters came around it made the game a lot quicker and smoother.
Since then, bowling hasn’t stopped advancing, and neither has the technology surrounding it. Now there are systems in place that automatically keep track of your score for you, and your ball returns to you soon after it hits the pins. Thank god for modern technology!