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A History of Pool Tables


Did you know that modern pool tables don't have a single regulation size?

This should be obvious enough even if you only watch pool on TV. Today's tournaments feature anything from 3 1/2' x 7' bar boxes to 5' x 10' tables. The only rule is that a pool table must be twice as long as it's wide.

Of course, it wasn't always like that. Back in the day, pool tables not only didn't come in all sizes but they were only made of wood. The equipment wasn't much more advanced—pool was originally played with maces!

Despite these early struggles, the game didn't take too long to find an audience. Here's a short history of pool and pool tables.

The Invention of Pool

By all accounts, the game of pool began life sometime in the 15th century. It was initially a lawn game with a passing resemblance to croquet.

After a while, pool became an indoor game played on wooden tables. It was most popular in Northern Europe, where it was a favorite of the nobility. By the early 18th century, it was even known as the "Noble Game of Billiards."

The word "billiards" points to a possibility that the game originated in France. In French, the wooden sticks used to strike the ball are often referred to as "billiart." The ball itself was also known as "bille."

Key Contributors to the Game

The true inventor of pool remains shrouded in mystery. That said, there are many other people that helped make pool what it is today.

For instance, it was John Wesley Hyatt who invented the composite pool ball. This was a by-product of his discovery of celluloid in 1869. The following year, he formed a company that started producing celluloid billiard balls.

Even before that, Captain Francois Mignaud invented the leather cue tip. This allowed players to manipulate the cue ball by using spin. Mignaud came up with his idea while he was in prison for "political outspokenness."

Around this time, John M. Brunswick built a pool table factory. He originally wanted to make carriages but changed his mind after becoming fascinated with pool. His company soon became the largest pool factory in the world.

Early Pool Equipment

Since the 15th century, pool equipment has seen many big changes. Here's a quick rundown of pool tables, cue sticks, and pool balls.

Pool Tables

The first known pool table was the property of King Louis XI in 1470. It had a green cloth over it, which served as an imitation of grass.

Early on, even the best pool tables were only made of wood. To prevent the ball from falling, the players used to cover the edges. The edges were also called banks, and shots ricochetting off them became known as bank shots.

In 1835, wood gave way to slate. Other than being more durable, slate doesn't warp over time like wood. Of course, high-quality wood tables are another story—you can find those even today!

As for pool table sizes, there wasn't a fixed dimension until the 18th century. Around this time, the 2:1 length-width ratio became the norm.

Maces and Cue Sticks

As mentioned above, people used to play pool with wooden sticks called maces. To do that, they had to shove the balls instead of striking them.

The main issue with maces is that they were inconvenient when the ball was close to the rail. Due to the mace's large head, the players had to strike these balls with the handle. In the 1600s, the cue stick replaced the mace for good.

Pool Balls

Much like the tables, the earliest pool balls were wooden. This made a lot of sense: wood was cheap, durable, and readily available.

When European countries started colonizing other continents, they began using their materials. For instance, they used to make pool balls out of ivory. Though these balls looked nice, they cracked too easily.

For a while, Hyatt's ball solution was the best one. He combined alcohol and camphor, molding them under extreme pressure to create a spherical shape. These days, we tend to use resin balls.

The Origins of Modern Pool

Even early on, pool had several variants that got popular in their own right. Here are the three biggest examples.

Four-Ball Pool

Four-ball pool was played on a four-pocket table with two red and two white balls.

You could get points by pocketing the balls, scratching the cue ball, or making caroms. A carom required you to hit two or three balls with the cue ball. Most modern carom games originated from the four-ball pool.

Fifteen-Ball Pool

This was another derivation of the four-ball pool. Today, it's known as the origin point of pocket games.

In the fifteen-ball pool, the object balls all had numbers from one to fifteen. Once you pocketed a ball, you'd get points equal to the number on the ball. The goal was to reach 61 points.

English Billiards

This is the first version of what we now know as snooker. Unlike today's 22-ball version, the early English billiards had three balls and six pockets.

The Fall and Rise of Pool

In the mid-1900, WWII hit the entire entertainment industry hard. Suddenly, nobody had the time to hang around in pool rooms anymore.

For a while, it seemed like pool would go the way of the dodo. One by one, poolrooms were quietly closing. After a decade in the shadows, though, the game saw a revival after the release of 1961's The Hustler.

The film depicted the life of a professional pool hustler, starring Paul Newman. It was a hit with critics and fans, leading to a renewed interest in the game. Poolrooms became the perfect place to discuss the social concerns of the era.

In 1986, Newman reprised his role in the unofficial sequel, The Color of Money. Directed by Scorsese and starring Tom Cruise, the film introduced another generation to the game. Pool was en vogue again, and it remains popular to this day.

Which Pool Tables Are the Best for You?

A long time ago, pool was a game for kings and nobility. These days, it welcomes all social classes and skill levels. With the advancement of the internet, the game is more accessible and welcoming than ever.

Want to get started with pool but don't know which table you need? If so, consider our collection of pool tables. If you get tired of pool, you can always turn them around and play some air hockey or ping-pong instead!