Bowling History

Bowling is a sport with a rich history that dates back thousands of years. While it was once played outdoors and with different rules, it has evolved significantly over the years into what the sport looks like today. Read on to learn more about the history of bowling.

Origins of Bowling

Early forms of bowling were invented around 5,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, and archaeologists have found historical artifacts from 3,200 BC that suggest that they played a game with a similar concept to that of bowling. Thus, bowling dates back further than the Roman Empire and the first Olympics that ever took place. Forms of bowling were played in Ancient Rome, and these developed into both modern bowling and the Italian lawn game known as bocce. Traces of bowling have also been found in Germany dating back to the year 300.

Bowling continued to develop throughout the premodern world. A form of bowling can be dated back to 1299 in England; however, this form was banned in 1366 because King Edward III believed it to be a distraction from his army’s archery practice. Traces of bowling can also be found in America in the 17th century, when it is believed that the game was introduced by British, German, and Dutch settlers. 

In 1822, tenpin bowling was first brought to the United States, with ninepin bowling developing soon afterwards. However, ninepin bowling is very uncommon in America today, as it was banned in many states and cities throughout the country in 1841, as a result of fears over the rise of gambling and organized crime, which government leaders linked to the sport. However, tenpin bowling continued to thrive in America, and in 1880, candlepin bowling was invented.

Modern Bowling

The exact origin of tenpin bowling is not known, but it did start to become widespread in the 1820s. By the 1840s, the game had become immensely popular in America and attracted the attention of the growing gambling business. In the 1860s, bowlers began to cut finger holes in their balls, and the first organized bowling clubs and tournaments were established.

In 1895, recognizing the need for set rules and a governing body, a group of bowlers met in New York City and created the American Bowling Congress (ABC). This body served as a means to unite bowlers across the country, starting clubs and inter-region competitions for bowlers to participate in. The sport began to spread across the country, and new clubs popped up everywhere, all with the same rules and principles of the ABC. Today, there are over 3,000 ABC associations in the United States, and many of them hold tournaments for players to compete in.

Bowling Popularity

Bowling continued to increase in popularity in America throughout the late 1800s, and in 1895, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was created. The congress created the first standardized form of modern bowling, creating the settled rules of the sport. Five years later, in 1900, duckpin bowling was created.

The 20th century saw the biggest rise of popularity that bowling has ever had. In 1916, the sport of bowling expanded with the creation of the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC). The sport grew even more popular when, in 1930, a British scientist named Sir Flinders Petrie discovered an old bowling set in the grave of a child that dated back nearly 5,000 years.

Since this was found, other scientists around the world have found artwork (hieroglyphics) in Egypt that suggests that they would play a game similar to that of bowling. An ancient hall was found in Egypt that appeared to be a bowling alley that Egyptians would play in. Other forms of ancient bowling have also been found by historians in Germany and England but the materials that were found in Egypt dates back much farther than the ones in Germany and England.

After the legalization of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s, beer companies wanted to promote their brand by sponsoring professional and semi-professional teams to promote their brand. The increase of technology, the pin-spotter, also increased the popularity of the game since it made it faster than it ever had before. Television also increased the ratings of bowling in the 1950s, as it led to broadcasts of bowling matches. 

Creation of the PBA

The creation of the Professional Bowling Association (PBA) in 1958 also increased the popularity of the sport by giving fans a place to focus their interest in the sport. The tour’s total prize money totaled about $4 million in the early 21st century. Today, the United States Bowling Congress is the primary bowlers’ association in America, and the PBA hosts tournaments throughout the year.

Of the many tournaments that the USBC and PBA host, there are only four that are standardly considered major tournaments. These major tournaments consist of The USBC Masters, The PBA World Championship, The Tournament of Champions, and The U.S. Open. Some of the top PBA players ever include Pete Weber, Walter Ray Willians Jr., Earl Anthony, Norme Duke, and Mark Roth.

Bowling Fun Facts

  • In the early 1900s, bowling balls were actually made out of wood and heavy rubber and did not change to the ball we know today, using polyester resin, until the 1960s.
  • Women were not allowed to play the sport of bowling until their own bowling association was created in 1916.
  • The largest bowling alley in the world is located in Japan and has 116 lanes.
  • Originally, one form of bowling only included nine pins, but was abandoned for tenpin bowling because of the link that the ninepin game had to gambling in the early 20th century.
  • There is a bowling alley located in the White House.
  • The first athlete to receive a million-dollar endorsement deal was a bowler.
  • Bowling has been seen to burn calories, regulate blood pressure, and work muscle groups that are normally not exercised.

Bowling Key Facts and Timeline

  • ~3200 BC: An early form of bowling is practiced in Ancient Egypt.
  • ~100 BC: An early form of bowling and bocce is played by the Ancient Romans.
  • ~300: A bowling-like sport develops in Germany.
  • 1299: Early bowling develops in England.
  • 1366: King Edward III bans bowling in England after it begins to distract his armies from archery practice.
  • 1600s: Traces of bowling come to America from British, German, and Dutch settlers.
  • 1822: Tenpin bowling emerges in the United States.
  • 1841: Ninepin bowling is banned in many places across America due to fears over gambling and organized crime.
  • 1875: The National Bowling Association is created.
  • 1880: Candlepin bowling is created.
  • 1895: The American Bowling Congress (ABC) is formed. Standard bowling rules are developed.
  • 1900: Duckpin bowling is created.
  • 1916: The Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) is formed.
  • 1930: Sir Flinders Petrie discovers evidence of Ancient Egyptian bowling games.
  • 1941: The ABC Hall of Fame is established.
  • 1958: The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is created.
  • 1975: The PBA Hall of Fame is established.
  • 1980: Joseph Gentiluomo patents the first modern bowling ball design.
  • 1981: The Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA) is created.
  • 2005: The YABA, ABC, and WIBC merge to form The United States Bowling Congress (USBC).


Which country started bowling?

The sport of bowling first developed around 3200 BC in Ancient Egypt, but the earliest form of bowling was very different from the one we know today. The idea of bowling a ball towards pins has also been traced to Ancient Rome, Germany, and Medieval England, highlighting how the concept of bowling is quite old, and spread across the world in various crude forms before the modern era. The first official rules of bowling, meanwhile, were created in the United States around 1895, with the founding of the American Bowling Congress. 

Who invented bowling?

While there is no known inventor of bowling, several countries contain the origins of the sport. Evidence of bowling games being played in Ancient Egypt and Polynesia were discovered by researchers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Bowling was also used in religious ceremonies, and was even played by Martin Luther.

Who created the modern bowling ball?

Bowling balls have gone through many forms over the years, but the modern bowling ball was actually invented fairly recently. The modern bowling ball was invented by Joseph Gentiluomo, a World War II veteran from Schenectady, New York. Gentiluomo patented the modern bowling ball with a heavy inner core in 1980, based on his earlier modifications to golf balls. Despite his work, Gentiluomo was not recognized for his patent for 14 years.