SI Vault
Victor Kalman
October 25, 1954
Gadgets Rube Goldberg never dreamed of, neon-lighted alleys, TV cameras and crowds herald the bright new era of one of the oldest sports of all
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October 25, 1954

New Look In Bowling

Gadgets Rube Goldberg never dreamed of, neon-lighted alleys, TV cameras and crowds herald the bright new era of one of the oldest sports of all

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There is no indication that bowling has reached its peak. Despite high real-estate and building costs, luxurious academies are being erected every week. Most of them include locker-room and shower facilities, restaurants, cocktail lounges and meeting rooms. Many operate nurseries so that milady doesn't have to wait until her baby is old enough for the Tot League in order to join her neighbors at the alleys. Almost every establishment employs an instructor. Teachers of the game, like former national champions Joe Wilman of Berwyn, Ill. and Ned Day of West Allis, Wis., and television's "bowling doctor," Sid Greenberg of Fresh Meadows, N.Y., are introducing new thousands to the sport.

Bowling has made its greatest progress in the past 15 years or so. But behind this phenomenal surge to the top of the sports field lies a groundwork shaped by half a century of toil, sweat and cheers.

Tenpins, like golf, was reared in private clubs, most of them restricted to the well to do. Each club set its own rules. Early attempts to organize the game failed because club members fought any change which might undermine the traditional or social values of bowling to them.

The magnetism of the sport finally proved stronger than tradition, however, and on Sept. 9, 1895 in New York's Beethoven Hall, representatives of 14 of the most powerful clubs formed the American Bowling Congress. It was the most important single event in the evolution of bowling.

Two basic rules were adopted on that historic night: 1) a game was to consist of 10 frames, with two balls to a frame; 2) scoring was to be on a basis of "strikes" and "spares," with a strike (all 10 pins with one ball) counting 10 points plus the total knocked down with the next two balls, and a spare (all pins with two balls) counting 10 points plus the number knocked down with the next ball. Both rules are in effect to this day.

In later years the ABC set down a volume of rules, regulations and minutely detailed specifications for alleys, pins, balls and other equipment. Field-men check each establishment once a year. Leagues and even individual ABC members are barred from bowling in an academy which has not received a certificate of approval. Every innovation affecting the game requires ABC sanction before it may be used.

From a handful of bowlers in 1895, the ABC membership rose to 2,000,000 last season. Leagues compete in every state except New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Alaska, Hawaii, Central America, American oil workers in Saudi-Arabia, and U.S. military bases overseas all have their leagues as well.

It should be noted, however, that not all of the early clubs went along with the ABC. Throughout New England and in sections of Pennsylvania and the South, bowlers of English, Irish and Dutch extraction clung to their own rules?largely drawn from skittles. Several variations of tenpins?ducks, rubberband ducks, candles, barrels and variations of these variations?are rolled exclusively in those areas to this day. The only ABC representations in New England north of New Haven, Conn. are at military camps.


Organized league bowlers include the ABC's 2,000,000 members; the Woman's International Bowling Congress with 700,000; the American Junior Bowling Congress with more than 40,000 of high school age and younger; the National Duck Pin Bowling Congress, 1,250,000 and the Massachusetts (candlepin) Bowling Association with 80,000. In addition, ABC officials estimate that there are at least 1,500,000 men and women who roll regularly in unattached social, fraternal and commercial clubs.

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