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Billiard History – A Brief Timeline

The term “billiard” comes from the French word “bille,” meaning “ball,” referring to a ball and stick game, and the word “art,” representing the art of the game. Billiards has been around for many centuries, originating as lawn games in much of the world over 700 years ago. Presently, it is typical to see a pool table in every bar or tavern you walk into. A number of people even have them in their homes, but it was not always like that. When billiards originated, it was played outdoors as early as the thirteenth century, and from there moved indoors onto tables. Wooden sticks called “maces” were used to shove (rather than stroke) the wooden and ivory billiard balls. Maces were eventually modified into cue sticks due to the difficulty of shots near rails with maces.

Many prominent, historical figures have owned billiard tables, and in many countries. Some of these famous people include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, King James I of England, and Kings Louis III, XIV, XV, and XVI of France. It is even recorded that King Louis XI of France purchased a billiard table as early as 1470. Over time, billiards became more popular in bars, inns, and taverns, therefore becoming more commonplace amongst ordinary people. Below is a brief, historical timeline of how the game of billiards was born.

• 13th century:

o 1200s: Bat and ball lawn games are invented and spread quickly

• 15th century:

o 1470: King Louis XI of France buys his own billiard table

o End 1400’s: billiards moved from outside on grass to inside on a table

• 16th century:

o 1500s: “Table billiards” popularity spreads amongst nobility in France and England

• 17th century:

o 1600s: Billiard play becomes more popular amongst commoners in public places

o 1674: “The Complete Gamester,” one of the first ever how-to billiard publications, was written by Charles Cotton of England

• 18th century:

o 1773: Carambole introduced in France

o 1775: Idea of “One Pocket” developed

o 1797: Cotton and wool replaced with new fabric to improve smoothness and friction

• 19th century:

o 1807: Carombole becomes popular in England, coming to be known as the game of billiards

o 1820s: The mace becomes virtually obsolete, replaced solely by the cue stick

o 1823: The perfection of the leather cue tip greatly increases the use of “spin”

o 1826: John Thurston of England develops the first slate tables, replacing the old wooden ones

o 1845: New rail cushions developed from vulcanized rubber by Goodyear.

o 1850s: A billiard “industry” is born, including companies like Sheraton’s and Gillow

o 1860: John Brunswick joins with the Phelan-Collender Group to form the Brunswick Corporation

o 1860: Claims of billiard tables existing in every State of the Union.

o 1868: Development of new billiard balls out of cellulose nitrate (called “celluloid”), replaces wooden- and ivory-made balls

o 1870: 1st officially recognized English Billiard Championship played between John Roberts and William Cook

o 1892: 1st official standard billiard table is made by Thurston & Co.

• 20th century:

o 1900: Snooker recognized by the Billiards Association

o 1901: 8-Ball invented

o 1910: Straight Pool invented

o 1920: Development of 9-Ball

o 1970s: Cast resin balls replace crystalate and celluloid billiard balls, improving accuracy in size, weight, and shape

Many improvements over the centuries have led billiards and pool into what it is today. Billiard games have been a pastime for years all around the world, and current trends show that it will be sticking around for quite some time.