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The modern sport of bowling has roots that stretch all the way back to at least 5200 B.C., and colonial Americans enjoyed bowling as well. As bowling is relatively low impact and can be played by people of all ages, it remains popular to this day. In fact, the United States Bowling Congress reports that more than 67 million Americans bowl every year.

For many, bowling is seen as more of a hobby or recreational activity than an actual sport, despite the many fitness benefits that bowling offers. Early American bowlers may have enjoyed the recreational and social aspects of 9-pin, but bowling also burns calories and helps improve hand-eye coordination. In addition, bowlers utilize 134 muscles every time they aim for a strike, subsequently toning various muscle groups in the arms, legs, chest, and back.

How Bowling Has Evolved Across History

Throughout history, various versions of bowling have been played, and today 10-pin bowling is the sport’s most common rendition. In 10-pin bowling, players roll or toss a bowling ball down a 60-foot-long lane and attempt to knock over bowling pins, of which there are 10 (hence the name). Bowling balls are typically heavy, weighing anywhere between 6 and 16 pounds. The ancient Egyptians used stone bowling balls, and lignum vitae (a type of hardwood) was the material of choice among American settlers until about 1905.

 

In colonial America, bowling balls may have been much smaller than their contemporary counterparts. An illustrated depiction of Dutch settlers in New York bowling on their front lawn circa 1670 seems to indicate that bowling balls at the time were approximately the size of an adult’s fist. By the 1700s, bowling had made its way to New York City, played on outdoor greens and indoor clubs alike. Manhattan’s Bowling Green Park, in fact, was built in 1733 and once housed an actual bowling lawn.

 

Colonial Americans preferred to use nine pins when bowling, and 10-pin bowling surged in popularity sometime around 1830. Interestingly, the ubiquity of 10-pin bowling came about as a result of morality questions surrounding nine-pin bowling. A number of 19th-century officials claimed that nine-pin bowling promoted such vices as gambling and racketeering; thus, nine-pin bowling was banned in several states.

The Connection Between Bowling and Alcohol

Along with gambling, bowling has long been associated with alcohol. That connection makes sense considering that the practice of drinking alcoholic beverages was common in early America, even among children. Throughout the 18th century, beer was widely considered safer to drink than water, and various types of liquor were used for medicinal purposes. But how did alcohol and bowling become intertwined? We have the Prohibition era to thank for bowling’s connection to boozy drinks.

 

Alcoholism was first declared a disease by Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1784, and pro-abstinence groups were formed in the early 1800s. The so-called temperance movement sought to expose the ill effects of alcohol, from the dangers of public intoxication to health hazards associated with alcohol. But it wasn’t until 1920 that alcohol was completely banned in the U.S., spawning a lively black market where intoxicating beverages were widely available.

 

During the Prohibition era, bowling alleys across the U.S. often doubled as illegal speakeasies, cementing alcohol’s place in the world of bowling. While bowling is far from the only sport that’s tied to alcohol, it remains one of the few where it’s acceptable for active players to imbibe. However, those drinking alcohol while bowling should remain aware of local laws and avoid driving or operating heavy machinery following a boozy bowling session.

Teamwork as a Cornerstone of Bowling

One of the most attractive aspects of bowling is the fact that it can be played solo or with a large group of players. Across the U.S., there are thousands of novice and professional bowling leagues, many of which are regulated by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC). To be officially classified as a “league,” there must be at least four bowling teams that compete regularly, and team members must adhere to all applicable USBC bylaws.

 

Perhaps the teamwork aspect of bowling is what attracted our ancestors to the sport in the first place: Throughout the 18th century, teamwork was needed for everything from construction projects to farming, irrigation, and animal husbandry. At its core, team building helps individuals grow and work through challenges while avoiding conflict, or addressing it in a healthy manner. Thus, it’s only natural that sports and recreational activities of the 1700s typically helped foster the concepts of team building.

 

Our 18th-century ancestors worked hard, but they also loved their leisure time. Along with bowling, early Americans played card games, danced, and engaged in bare-knuckle boxing. In addition, the nation’s first golf club was established in 1739, in Charleston, South Carolina. While official bowling leagues didn’t exist in America until the mid-1800s, bowling was still a popular recreational activity in colonial times.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.