Before there were bowling alleys and bowling leagues, there were simply people with a ball and pins and a desire to compete against each other. Because of the simple nature of the required equipment and the ability to set up a game virtually anywhere, bowling is one of the oldest sports in human history.

From ancient Egypt to present-day America, bowling has had a long lifespan and has endured many changes, machinations and even attempts to ban it. This article will offer a brief glimpse into the history of bowling.

Roots in ancient Egypt

Bowling is so old that no one is quite sure exactly when and where it was invented and by whom. The first versions of the game were thought to have been played around 5,000 BC. This is because a British archaeologist named Sir Flinders Petrie discovered what was thought to be bowling equipment in a child’s grave that he’d dug up in Egypt in 1934.

The grave itself was from 3,200 BC, but the archaeologists were able to discern that bowling was played well before that. The grave contained rough versions of bowling balls and bowling pins. Interestingly, hieroglyphics were also discovered in ancient Egypt that depicted people bowling.

Growth in Germany

Around the year 300 AD, Germans were known to frequently carry around kegels, which were pin-shaped, wooden instruments that could be used for protection or competing in sports. People in Germany would set up these kegels and use rocks to try to knock them down. It was thought that there was a religious component to the game, as knocking down your kegel meant that your sins were forgiven.

Proliferation and banning in medieval England

The first mention of bowling in medieval England occurred in 1366. King Edward III banned the activity because his soldiers were letting it get in the way of their archery practice.

England’s King Henry VIII was a big fan of bowling, even going so far as to have outdoor bowling lanes installed at Whitehall. He also viewed it as a status symbol and subsequently banned the lower classes from participating.

Popularity in America

In the 19th century, many European immigrants from Germany, the Netherlands and England brought with them their affinity for bowling. Although the sport had existed in the United States since around 1670, it didn’t really take off until the 1800s.

Earlier versions of the game used nine pins, but the version popularized in America changed that to 10. Shortly thereafter, a governing body was organized to standardize rules, equipment and practices. The American Bowling Congress (ABC) was created alongside the Women’s International Bowling Congress, because the ABC didn’t allow women.

Innovations in the sport, like hard rubber balls and the automatic pin-spotter, made bowling much easier to play and thus more popular. The 1950s brought about the broadcast of Championship Bowling on television, and people began to view bowling as a normal recreational and competitive sport.

Call to reserve your lane today

Now that you know the history of bowling, perhaps you’ll consider playing a few games. If you’re looking for a place to play, come on down to Sparetimes. We have numerous bowling alleys and even offer bowling leagues if competition is what you’re looking for. The king of England might have banned bowling, but our lanes are open to anyone and everyone who wants to play!

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