"Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature." -- John Gielgud
It’s still pretty snazzy for being one of the oldest of sports.
Bowling may feel like an aging 50’s darling but in fact is holding up pretty darn good for being 5,000 years old. It actually dates back to ancient Egypt but found its American roots through Dutch settlers during the 1600’s.
Through the end of the 19th century, bowling was like almost everything, primarily a man’s sport with centers attached to saloons. Women bowlers were hidden from view and allowed access to the alleys only when not in use by their male counterparts.
In 1907, all that nonsense changed. St Louis bowling alley owner and sports writer, Dennis J. Sweeney created the first women’s bowling leagues and tournament. By 1917, the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) was born and went on to become the biggest women’s sports organization.
Between 1920 and 1933, as women were getting their bowl on, Prohibition stopped the alcohol from flowing. During this time, the sport took on a more respectable feel and women and children joined in. This was the beginning of the sport resembling the family game many of us have come to know.
Bowling found its popularity explode in the late 1950’s and 60’s with the advent of auto-pinsetter technology. Goodbye went the need for the pin boys who up until this point, manually reset pins after each attempt.
Many of the twenty million Americans that bowled in the 1950’s came from a working, blue-collar background. By the mid-60’s, the number of bowling centers grew to around 12,000, mostly driven by the growth of league bowling and tournaments. About seven million people bowled in leagues, my father among them: Clairol’s Burbank, CA warehouse bowling team, c. late-60’s.
The technology of the bowling ball has too advanced significantly. Until 1905, the ten-pin ball was made of hardwood. The ball was then made of rubber through the 50’s when plastic became the material of choice. The 1980’s brought balls made of urethane and today, unique and beautiful bowling balls are made from resin and are reactive and particle-enhanced designed to improve traction.
It’s true: the sport, the bowlers and the technology have all come a long way. Nearly half of the bowlers today are women and girls and two-thirds range in ages from 6 to 34.
Bowling Balls is a colorful homage to the alleys and the joy they continue to bring to nearly 70 million people in the U.S. and another 30 million worldwide.
Like a big warm hug, Bowling Balls and its partner Roller Skates, are like old familiar friends that take us back to happier days and simpler times.
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