The History of Billiards

The game of pool (sometimes referred to as billiards) is a cue sport played with billiard balls and cue sticks made of wood or synthetic material. Historically, sports played on pool tables have been known as billiard sports and include snooker or English billiards, typically played on a table with six pockets, carom billiards, usually played on 10-foot tables without pockets and pool, the most common billiard sport, generally offering six-pocket tables of various lengths. In addition to these pool tables there are further types, such as bumper pool tables and others that offer various playing surfaces, obstacles and table configurations, but are not as popular as the standard billiard or pool table game.

History of BilliardsThe development of indoor cue sports such as pool is linked with outdoor stick games popular in Europe during the 15th century such as golf, croquet and bocce. A version of outdoor billiards was played with cue sticks on a field; this cue sport was eventually moved inside to be played on indoor pool tables.The first recorded indoor pool table was built by King Louis XI of France, and the new game’s popularity among French nobles helped spread it to virtually every French cafe by the middle 1700s. These early tables were built by furniture makers, while early balls were made from ivory, clay and wood.

At the middle of 19th century technical innovations of the billiard tables generally won recognition. The wooden plates were replaced by marmor or schist. The stone plates could be polished nearly plane. This enabled thinner and slicker cloths, because unevennesses needed not to be concealed. So the running way of the balls could be elongated and the possibilities of combinations increased. Also the cushion got a substantial correction. The stuffed cushion - a padding of the billiard border filled with elastic material like cotton or horsehair, came out of use. Instead of this the rubber cushion came in use, whose precise, mostly triangle profile made a manageable rebound of the balls possible.

The earliest games were carom-style games played on tables without pockets with three or four balls. The various games in this style relied on striking the cue ball to either bounce off of rails into other billiard balls or bounce a billiard ball into other balls without hitting the rails or other obstacles; pockets were developed initially as deathtraps to balls, but eventually became targets to earn points.By the end of the 1800s games played on billiard tables and pool tables became so popular in both Europe and America that these games were now referred to as “sports”, with tournaments, rules and regulations.

The word “pool” means a collective bet, or ante. Many non-billiard games—such as poker—involve a pool, but it was pocket billiards that the name became attached to. The term “poolroom” now means a place where pool is played, but in the 19th century, a poolroom was a betting parlor for horse racing. Pool tables were installed so patrons could pass time between races. The two became connected in the public mind, but the unsavory connotation of “poolroom” came from the betting that took place there, not from billiards.

From 1878 until 1956, pool and billiard championship tournaments were held almost annually, with one-on-one challenge matches filling the remaining months. At times, including during the Civil War, billiard results received wider coverage than war news. Players were so renowned that cigarette cards were issued featuring them. Pool went to war several times as a popular recreation for the troops. Professional players toured military posts giving exhibitions; some even worked in the defence Industry. But the game had more trouble emerging from World War II than it had getting into it. Returning soldiers were in a mood to buy houses and build careers, and the charm of an afternoon spent at the pool table was a thing of the past. Room after room closed quietly and by the end of the 1950's it looked as though the game might pass into oblivion.The Hustler 1961

Billiards was revived by two electrifying events, one in 1961, the other in 1986. The first was the release of the movie, "The Hustler". The black-and-white film depicted the dark life of a pool hustler with Paul Newman in the title role. New rooms opened all over the country and for the remainder of the 60's pool flourished until social concerns, the Vietnam War, and a desire for outdoor coeducational activities led to a decline in billiard interest. In 1986, "The Colour of Money", the sequel to "The Hustler" with Paul Newman in the same role and Tom Cruise as an up-and-coming professional, brought the excitement of pool to a new generation. The result was the opening of "upscale" rooms catering to people whose senses would have been offended by the old rooms if they had ever seen them. This trend began slowly in 1987 and has since surged.

The sport’s popularity is no big surprise—it is said that the game was played by kings and queens, was mentioned in Shakespeare’s classic Antony and Cleopatra, Sherlock Holmes wrote about pool and billiards in his novel The Adventure of the Dancing Men, and even Mark Twain portrayed playing the stubborn game in one of his diaries.  The elegant sport can be played in upscale pool halls and is becoming more of a family-oriented activity that is clearly entertaining and fun to play.