Besides being one of the fastest growing pastimes in worldwide popularity today, the sport of bowling has a rich and fascinating history.  Archaeologists have discovered bowling balls, pins, and other related equipment in a child’s tomb in Egypt, dating the game as far back as 5200 B.C.

     But the modern sport of bowling as we know it today probably grew out of a German religious ceremony, introduced to the masses by monks during the third and fourth centuries.  At that time, every German peasant carried a wooden club similar to the Irish shillelagh, for protection.  It became a customary test of faith in many churches for the parishioner to set up his club, called a Kegel, as a target, which represented the heathen.  He would then roll a stone at it in an attempt to knock it down.  If he succeeded, he was deemed to be free from sin.  Today in many parts of Europe, and even in some areas of the United States, the sport of bowling is still known as Kegeling.

     Bowling eventually moved out of the church’s domain and became a popular secular sport, spreading through Austria, Spain, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries.  Bowling greens began to appear in the homes of wealthy European royalty, and there are many references to the sport in documents from the Middle Ages.

     As bowling increased in popularity it unfortunately gained a bad reputation because of its association with taverns, pubs and gambling.  The earliest known legislation against bowling dates to 14th Century England.  It seems the King’s soldiers were spending so much time bowling, they were neglecting the archery practice that was vital for the country’s national defense during the 100 Years War.  Both King Edward III and King Richard II, who reigned during this conflict, banned the game in the interests of national security.

     Although the early English settlers introduced lawn bowling (which doesn’t use pins) to the Colonies, it was the Dutch during the mid-1600’s who gave our fledgling country the precursor to modern day 10-pin bowling.  Bowling was originally conceived as a 9-pin game in America, but because of bowling’s association with gambling and taverns, it was banned in Connecticut.  One popular belief is that some enterprising bowlers added the 10th pin in order to circumvent this law, and that’s how modern-day 10-pin bowling was born.  The earliest mention of bowling in American literature is in the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving, when old Rip wakes up to the sounds of “ninepins”.  In what is now New York City, Dutch residents bowled in a section of the city still known as “Bowling Green” today.  From New York, German immigrants began to move westward, and soon popularized the game in the Midwest, most notably in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee.

     With interclub and interleague bowling ever increasing, it soon became apparent that equipment and rules needed to be standardized nationally.  In 1875 the first bowling association, consisting of 9 clubs, was formed in New York City.  Called the National Bowling Association, its main goals were to standardize rules and to eliminate gambling among its members.  Although the organization itself did not last long, the rules it created are still the basic rules of bowling today.  It wasn’t until 20 years later in 1895 that the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was formed.  Under its leadership, bowling became polular nationwide, and more importantly, finally gained respectability due to the virtual elimination of the gambling associated with it.  ABC largely accomplished this by offering substantial prize monies in sanctioned regional and national competitions, in which gambling was prohibited.

     With the sport cleaned up, it was just a matter of time until women were attracted to the game, and in 1916 the Women’s National Bowling Association, renamed the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) in 1971, was formed.  Young people also became involved, and in 1982 the Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA) was formed.  These three organizations have now merged into one cohesive national governing body, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).

     Just as the sport of bowling evolved, so too did the equipment that is used to play the game.  A wooden ball eventually replaced the stone, and multiple wooden pins (as few as three and as many as seventeen) were used instead of the single kegel.  The most common form of bowling in America in the 1600’s was ninepins, in which the pins (which were straight, and taller and narrower than those used in today’s 10-pin game) were set up in a diamond pattern.  The “alley” was usually a plank only about a foot and a half wide and 90 feet long.  Needless to say, it took a great deal of skill just to keep the ball on the alley, let alone hit the pins!  From a rolling stone, the ball changed over the centuries to wood, then hard natural rubber, and finally to the variety of resins, polyurethane and plastics used in today’s bowling balls.  Drilling the holes in a ball has become a highly technical skill, and the way in which a ball is drilled can have a tremendous impact on how it reacts when thrown by a bowler.  Most professional bowlers carry an arsenal of balls with them when they compete, each drilled for a specific purpose or lane condition.  In addition to the basic bowling ball and shoes, the marketing of bowling accessories, apparel, and ancillary equipment has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry today.

      With 7,000 years of history backing it, is it any wonder that bowling has become one of the favorite pastimes of Americans today?  It is estimated that approximately 70 million people in the US go bowling at least once a year, with about 7 million of them competing in league play.  Bowling can be enjoyed in a number of venues, including cosmic bowling, parties, fundraisers, tournaments, and league play.  So why wait?  Come on down to your local bowling center and sign up for a league!  No experience necessary, and it will get you off the couch and out for a social night once a week!  7,000 years can’t be wrong—Bowling is Fun!


  • It is well known that Martin Luther translated the Bible to German; what is not common knowledge is that he had his own bowling lane and is credited with fixing the number of pins at 9 and writing the first book of rules for 9-pin bowling.

  • King Henry the 8th of England liked to bowl when he wasn’t busy executing wives.

  • Sir Francis Drake bowled while waiting for the Spanish Armada.

  • Only Baseball and Golf have older Halls of Fame than Bowling.

  • In 1909 Bowling’s distant cousin, Skee Ball, was invented and patented in Philadelphia.

  • In 1963, Americans spent over $43,600,000 on bowling balls.

  • The original purpose of the decorative screens (called masking units) at the end of the alleys was to prevent the pin boys from taunting the bowlers, which often caused brawls in the pubs where the alleys were generally located.

  • Bowling was an exhibition sport at the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea.

  • In 1850 there were more than 400 bowling alleys in New York City.

  • In the early days of bowling, 200 was considered to be a perfect score.

  • The bowling alley that Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble frequented was the Bedrock Bowl O Rama, and their team name was the Water Buffaloes.

  • In the famous comic strip "Peanuts", Snoopy's bowling nickname was Joe Sandbagger, and his average was 1.

  • When a 16-pound bowling ball is thrown, it impacts the surface of the lane with a pressure of 1800 pounds per square inch.