The futuristic fantasy of steel and wire shown above is the pin-spotting machine developed by the American Machine & Foundry Co., a gadget which has revolutionized the bowling industry and started the pin boy (left) on his way out after an unbroken tenure of some 17 centuries. It is a far cry indeed from the game originated around 250 A.D. by a Bavarian priest who first set up a wooden pin in the cloister of his church. He labeled the pin Heide (heathen) and called upon each parishioner to knock it down with a rounded stone. If the Kegeler (thrower) scored a hit, he was judged to be living a devout, pure life. If he missed, his soul was presumed to require cleansing at church.
This season the nation's top bowlers are competing before television cameras at the $1,500,000 Echo Lanes in Mountainside, N.J. and in other palatial establishments throughout the country. Crowds jam permanent and portable grandstands to watch classic tournaments, paying up to $6.60 a seat. In addition to the stars, approximately one of every eight men, women and children in the U.S. participates in the sport.
FROM CLOISTER TO KLIEG LIGHTS
The evolution of bowling from the cloister to the klieg-lighted hall is a dramatic story of people, inventions and accidents. But 17 centuries have not altered the heart of the game. Regulations which irked early Kegelers irritate bowlers today. The sharpshooting gambling element which caused governments to outlaw bowling in its infancy plagues the sport's current overseers. A bowler is still called a kegler. If he leaves a pin on the alley, he is told he doesn't live right, he'd better go to church.
Bowling was introduced to this country by Dutch settlers in 1623. The Dutch bowled skittles in which nine pins were set up in the shape of a diamond and the roller had three chances to knock them down with a small wooden ball. This was the game the sailors were playing in Sleepy Hollow when, amid the thunder of falling pins, Rip Van Winkle took a nap that lasted 20 years. By Washington Irving's time?the early 1800s?there were alleys in practically every village in the East.
The trouble was, many of these establishments were operated by hard-drinking ne'er-do-wells like old Rip. Gambling flourished in the alleys and crime spread out from them. The situation became so bad that in 1840 ninepins was banned in New England. The New York State Legislature took similar action the following year.
Then came the large-scale emigration from Germany, the cradle of Kegeling. Some of the immigrants brought along their favorite bowling balls. Practically all of them?women and children as well as the men?had indulged in the pastime at home. Ninepins was not allowed in this new America? Well, how about tenpins?
Thus it was, to circumvent the law, that some unremembered genius added a single pin to the game, changed the target from a diamond shape to a triangle, and gave birth to the modern American sport.
Today, with an estimated 20 million participants and some 5,450,000 league and club contestants who roll at least once a week, bowling ranks second to fishing and is by far the largest competitive sport in the country. Bowlers roll on 75,000 lanes in approximately 10,000 academies. They spent $350 million last season for bowling alone, and millions more for balls, shoes, shirts, trophies and medals.
One-third of the enthusiasts are women. Mixed tournaments of men and women, boys and girls are becoming increasingly popular. There are "Tot Leagues" in which children as young as three bowl with special balls, while Frank Helmers, 90, didn't miss a session of his Volunteer Bowling Club in Cincinnati last season. Leagues of blind bowlers compete in New York and Cleveland. Paraplegic war veterans, rolling from wheel chairs, record amazingly high scores in their Cleveland league.