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The Amazingly Long History of Bowling

Written By: Christine Dantz

February 2015

You may not realize it, but people have been bowling for hundreds of years. A British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, unearthed items in a 1930 Egyptian archeological dig, which resembled a bowling game, in the tomb of a child from 3200 BC.

William King Edward the III of England is said to have outlawed a rough version of the game in 1366 to keep his army focused on archery skills.

A landscape of people bowling by the Dutch painter, Jan Steen in 1655
A landscape of people bowling by the Dutch painter, Jan Steen in 1655

Later, one of Edwards successors, King Edward IV, brought the game back, but only for affluent citizens. Of course, fans continued to play the game in secret. Yes, the game's changed a great amount, such as moving indoors. But this just makes it a fun, rainy day sport that all-ages can enjoy!

England wasn't the only country with a history of bowling, German historians also claim a history dating back to the year 300 AD. American scholars presume that the increase in German immigrants in America during the 20th century influenced the game in the U.S.

History of bowling
Pinsetter boys at a Pittsburgh bowling Alley, c 1908 (Hine L. W.)

A landscape of people bowling by the Dutch painter, Jan Steen in 1655
Spectators watch a bowling tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in1905. (American Bowling Congress)

Brunswick Corporation patent for the automatic pinsetter


The Brunswick Corporation has a long history with recreational sports from bowling to billiards. This 1955 patent, assigned to the company for the automatic pinsetter, saved a lot of time and money-for the bowling alley. The invention eliminated the need to pay children to manually set the pins back up after each game.

The Brunswick Corporation is still producing quality balls and other sporting equipment today, but, unfortunately, they've offshored all the company's bowling ball manufacturing to Mexico. (U.S. Patent No. 2973204, 1955)


"The bowling alley is the poor man's country club." – Sanford Hansell

"Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 85 cents at the bowling alley." – Steven Wright

"Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your head." – Martin Mull

"One advantage of bowling over golf is that you never lose a bowling ball." – unknown

The Schmidt-Beckerle-McElroy automatic bowling pin setter






Another pin machine and a rare photo of the "Sch-Bec-Roy" or the Schmidt-Beckerle-McElroy in the 1930's.










President Harry Truman's birthday bowling




Bowling is so popular by the 1940s, that the West Wing gets its own, single-lane bowling alley for President Harry Truman's birthday.








The lane was moved in 1955 to the Old Executive Office Building. President Richard Nixon an avid bowler, can be seen here taking a break in this September 17, 1971 picture taken by the White House Photographer.

History of Presidents that bowled
Good form but...opps, looks like a line fault.

Here are some more Presidents that bowled, maybe not as often as others, but the game seems to appeal to everyone, even presidents.

Ronald Reagan bowling
Ronald Reagan in his younger days

Presidents bowling
Bill Clinton before the "no more McDonalds hamburgers" diet

Presidents bowling
Mr. Obama has some form, but we don't think bowling his sport of choice.

Presidents bowling
Even Honest Abe was known to have a "five bagger" in his day.

Bowling has evolved from the automatic pin setters to electronic score keepers, and flat screen game displays.

History of bowling, this is a modern bowling alley
Today's bowling

Today, many Bowling Alleys are home to professional clubs, recreational groups, and school groups, as well as it's a fun place to hang out for the younger crowd. Many locations hold "Rock and Bowl" events that combines music, colorful lights, adult beverages, and bowling all nightlong!


Learn how to make strikes
Company History. (n.d.). Retrieved from Brunswick Genuine Ingenuity.
Hine, L. W. (n.d.). 1: A.M. Pin boys working in Subway Bowling Alleys, 65 South St., Brooklyn, New York. United States Library of Congress.
Hine, L. W. (n.d.). Pinsetter boys at a Pittsburgh bowling alley, c 1908. United States Library of Congress.
History of Bowling. (n.d.). Retrieved from International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame.
Huck, W. (1955). U.S. Patent No. 2973204.
Manor, R. (2005, June 17). Bowling ball plant moving to Mexico. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune.
Steen, J. (n.d.). The Bowling Game.
The History of Bowling. (n.d.). Retrieved from
White House Bowling Alley. (n.d.). Retrieved from The White House Museum.



Other Articles of Interest:

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Vintage Lysol: All-Purpose Disinfectant and Feminine Hygiene Product?

Caffeine Underwear a Real Downer


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