Most of us are now familiar with playing a game of billiards at the pub or at a club. It has a long and rich history, from being a simple lawn game to an actual sport.
But exactly where did billiards originate? In this article, we’ll find out how billiards has become one of the most well-loved games in the world.
When Was Billiards Invented?
While there are a few conflicting theories as to when the game was invented, most agree that it was created in France during the 15th century.
Billiards was said to be a lawn game of the royals that accompanied other popular games such as croquet.
The name “billiards” was also said to have come from the French word “billart,” which meant wooden stick and “bille,” which meant ball.
So the combined version of “billart” and “bille” is “billiards”. This translates to a game that uses a wooden stick and a ball.
Although the French created the modern sport that is known as billiards today, the game itself had predecessors that dated way before the 15th century.
This means that the original game of billiards existed even before billiards was named by the French.
In essence, the game was named by the French, but it was influenced by an older game.
Historians traced the actual game of billiards back to the time of the Crusades.
During this time, the Christian military were tasked to reclaim the Holy land from the Muslims in the name of Christianity.
Because of this, many European countries allied to join the fight and established Rome as a base and Christian capital.
This lead to overall development of the continent which included culture and games.
Among the games of the wealthy was a game that was very similar to what we now know as billiards.
This was said to be the first predecessor of modern billiards and was often played by the Knights of the Templar, who were said to be the wealthiest and most powerful Crusade warriors at that time.
They were said to have brought the game to Western Europe during 1100 A.D.
When Were Billiard Balls Invented?
The first billiard balls were invented in the 15th century when France turned it into a lawn game.
Although, its 1100 AD predecessor had its own type of ball.
This said, billiard balls were influenced by game balls that dated before the Renaissance and the Crusades.
Even the balls used in the game played by the Knights of the Templar were inspired by equipment that ancient civilizations used to use.
Though there is no exact record of when the predecessors of billiard balls were created, uncovered hieroglyphics were able to show us that a game in ancient Egypt known to us today by the English “Skittles” made use of balls that were very similar to billiard balls.
These balls were said to have dated sometime in 3300 B.C. Just like modern billiard balls, there were nine in a set.
What Were the First Billiard Balls Made Out of?
The earliest pool balls were made out of inexpensive wood that could be shaped into a ball.
It was only in the 17th century that ivory was introduced as the next best material to be used for making billiard balls.
It was because of this reason that billiards became a game of the rich because only the rich could afford to make the ivory pool balls.
However, the production of ivory pool balls started to decline because the supply of ivory was running short when elephants have been driven near extinction.
The 19th century saw a complete drop of ivory which drove the billiard market to look for alternatives to creating their balls.
In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt was able to create a new ball made out of camphor and nitrocellulose. He introduced this as the new age pool ball.
Hyatt’s creation was a revolutionary discovery in the world of billiards. In fact, he was awarded a $10,000 purse for it.
However, it had one problem; it was flammable. The nitrocellulose was literally made of “nitro” which can explode if there is any fire nearby.
Because of this, a new method of creating billiard balls was needed.
Eventually, chemist Leo Baekeland came up with the first plastic billiard ball in 1900. He used phenol and formaldehyde to create a resin that he pegged as the “Bakelite.”
This is the material that then became the standard when creating billiard balls up until today.
Now, billiard balls are made of phenolic and polyester to make them scratch-proof and shiny even after a long time.
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How Has Billiards Evolved Over Time?
From a simple game played by the Knights of the Templar to a lawn game played by the nobles, billiards has evolved over time.
From the late 1800’s to the early 1950’s, billiards reached the peak of its popularity with competitions being held every year in many different countries.
It was only during the late 1950’s after World War II that billiards lost its steam because people were poverty-stricken and did not have the time and means for games anymore.
When it seemed that billiards was completely forgotten, it rose to fame again. It was in 1961 when the movie “Hustler” came out and was followed with a 1986 sequel “The Color of Money.”
Because of these movies, the trend of pool slowly started rising again. The game’s fame reached its peak in 1987.
Today, we see the game on every sports channel and is known as one of the most well-loved sports in the world.
While most of its ancient origins still remain a mystery, we do know where did billiards originate from.
We also know how it was able to stand against the test of time. Through its ups and downs, the game flourished and survived many wars.
Today, it’s still flourishing. It is a game that anyone can play, young and old alike.
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