The History of Bowling: From Ancient Egypt to Today

Bowling has been around for centuries, and its history is fascinating. The Egyptians are believed to have created bowling games as far back as 5000 BC.
ancient egypt bowling was very differnt than the bowling lanes we have today

The Egyptian game was played with 10 stones (bowling balls) that were thrown toward a hole in the ground. They didn’t play in bowling alleys, and they weren’t yet knocking down pins with bowling balls. However, the premise was fairly similar and in fact, it wasn’t too different from today’s ten pin bowling

Interestingly, the history of how bowling began goes hand-in-hand with history itself. We will find out more in this article outlining how we went from using rocks as bowling balls in peaceful games of lawn bowling to measuring bowling lanes with precise dimensions and calling “foul” if you were “over the line.”

bowling lanes ancient Egypt

So wait, the Ancient Egyptians Invented Bowling?

Some Italian archaeologists have found evidence that suggests that the history of bowling began by throwing stone balls along a lane was a popular game in ancient Egypt.

Why was bowling Invented in ancient Egypt?

The game was a mix of bowling, billiards, and lawn bowls. It was played at Narmoutheos in the Fayoum region, which is located some 90 kilometers south of Cairo. It’s very different than the tenpin game we play on the bowling lane today.

The bowling game was played in a large room that seems to be designed for modern bowling games.

The room was from a structure that was built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It might have been a residential building.

pin bowling in ancient Egypt

Bowling is thought to have originated in 5200 B.C. The rudimentary equipment included nine stones on which a stone “bowling ball” was rolled, with the ball having to traverse an archway constructed of three pieces of marble before rolling down it.

Where Was Bowling Invented?

Bowling has been around since at least 5,000 BC, according to the game’s earliest form. The ancient Egyptians used stones as a bowling ball to try and knock over various objects. The Ancient Egyptian bowling game evolved into several types of bowling throughout history. But this only eludes to the fact that bowling may have been invented in Ancient Egypt. It’s not necessarily conclusive.

The Invention of Bowling (A historical view of the bowling ball)

history of bowling

However, according to evidence discovered by Italian archaeologists, ancient Egyptians may have played a game in which they threw stone bowling balls down a lane. These balls were much different than the bowling balls of today.

The game was a mix of bowling, billiards, and lawn bowls and was held in Narmoutheos, Fayoum province, some 90 kilometers south of Cairo.

The game was held in a large chamber that appears to be the prototype of today’s bowling alley.

The corridor was about 4 meters long, 20 centimeters broad, and 10 centimeters deep. At its center, there was a 10-centimeter hole.

Origin and Early Bowling History

Bowling may date its heritage back over 7000 years, according to some sources. Sir Flinders of Petrie, emeritus professor of Egyptology at the University of London, discovered ten-pin bowling equipment in an Egyptian boy’s tomb during an archeological expedition.

The burial date of this Egyptian youngster was accurately established at 5200 BC. This is the earliest known style of bowling, which has been authentically dated to 5200 BC.

Who Invented Bowling?… Who Invented Modern Bowling?

According to Dr. Malcolm Rogers, the museum’s head curator, Polynesians (inhabitants of South Sea Islands) played an ancient bowling game in which little elliptical balls and round, flat discs about 3.5” to 4” wide made of stone were used.

The distance, the stones were to be bowled, was set at 60 feet by a rule known as ‘ULA MAIKA‘, which mirrors the same specifications used in Tenpin Bowling. Though the bowling balls were much smaller.

I’m not sure I would take bowling tips from the ancient Egyptians as the tenpin sport was very different than the modern game we term bowling today.

Where Did Bowling Originate?

Even after a thorough study and precise records of the ancient game of bowling or “bows,” it is impossible to secure, the exact origin date.

Some people think that the men and boys of the Stone Age started one form of bowling by rolling rocks as bowling balls and throwing it at rows of stones or cones (pins). These stones had flat bottoms and the bowling ball had to knock down all the pins.

Some authorities argue that its place of origin can be pinpointed to what is now Northern Italy, say historians. During Caesar’s reign (50 BC), the Helvetii, who lived in the Alpine areas, are said to have played a game similar to the modern-day Italian game ‘BOCCIE.’

The Games Starts to Take Shape

It seems that no one person invented modern bowling According to Strutt, in his Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, the more familiar game of bowling as we know it may have started during the Middle Ages (400 to 1500 AD).

The game has been traced back to the 12th century, but some authorities have only managed to locate it that far back.

In Germany in 1300, there were only three pins: one was used in some areas, with a count as high as 17 elsewhere on Silesia for many generations.

Early adopters of the game

Way before championship bowling, Martin Luther was a bowler who regularly bowled for pleasure. He became convinced that nine pins made the best game, and this was eventually adopted as the standard in Germany.

The game was played with a rubber ball on indoor carpets; if the surface was rocky, however, a player was permitted to throw or roll the ball at the pins.

Ten Pins or Nine Pins?

bowling pins

The ancient game of nine pin bowling, which was played long before the introduction of bowling, is one that historians believe had a role in the invention of today’s game.

It’s clear that these games have been played outside in the open air for a long time and were likely to be called lawn bowling.

Bowling Grows in Popularity

Later, in the 1200s, as the game grew more popular, a single board about 12 to 18 inches wide and 30 to 60 yards long served as the lane bed.

On a board platform 36 to 48 inches square, three pins were placed in each of three rows. It was impossible to hit any of the corner pins naturally, so they were repositioned after each ball was delivered.

Various enhancements were made from time to time, such as building a canopy over each end of the lane for the participants and spectators on one side, as well as for the individual or boy who stood by the frame to set up the pins.

Then, during the third season, a tiny basin was positioned on one side of the lane with a gradual lowering from the pins to the bowlers.

The bowler’s score was shown on the scoreboard, as well as the number of pins knocked down by the pin-boy. The ball return originated here.

Finally, Many people eventually decided it would be best to enclose the entire lane, as a result, we have the origin of the indoor bowling alley, which is believed to have debuted in London in 1455 AD. So say so-long all of you lawn bowling fans.

Bowling Arrives in America – New York, New York

In 1650, a painting in the Bettimann Archives in New York City depicts the Dutch bowling at pins on Bowling Green is the first real evidence that bowling has made it to America.

The first appearance of ninepins in North America is unknown, but by about 1820 it had become popular among those who liked to bowl.

By the end of the 19th century, gamblers were in complete control of the game. Prior to 1841, ninepin was prohibited by the state of Connecticut, and this action was followed by many other states until ninepin became a federal crime everywhere in the United States.

Although its origins are obscure, Tenpin is regarded to have emerged between 1820 and 1830. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York lawmakers permitted the game to develop for some unknown reason.

The game was at its peak in the United States in the 1840s, and bowling lanes could be found on nearly every block on Broadway in New York.

International Amateur Competition

The game thrived during the 1860s, as the German community just loved the game. The popularity of 9″ balls in bowling alleys also grew with clubs and events and eventually finger holes were added to make gripping the ball easier.

National Bowling Association

In 1875, 27 delegates representing nine bowling clubs met in Germania Hall on the Bowery and established the National Bowling Association to create the first uniform standards and regulations.

The members of the body immediately recognized the need for a change in the bowling rules and appointed three gentlemen who were considered top bowlers at the time.

These men were empowered by the group to modify the rules of the game, to draft new legislation, and to submit their work for approval by the entire membership of a later meeting of the association.

The results of this expert committee’s action included:

  • Restrictions on the length of the bowling lanes in the bowling alleys.
  • A penalty from going beyond a line, when delivering the ball. (fowl line)
  • Restrictions in the size of the balls.
  • Require dead wood to be removed from the lanes.
  • Declare all balls bowled in the gutter to be dead.
  • The pins should be 17” in length, 161/2” in circumference at the thickest part, and 2” at the bottom.

The Association is to be credited with the creation of modern rules and specifications for American Tenpins. However, the association was poorly organized and failed to live up to expectations.

In 1890, the ‘American Amateur Bowling Union’ was formed in its place. Unfortunately, it too was short-lived and gained little traction due to limitations, lack of initiative, and foresight.

American Bowling Congress

Despite the closing of the National Bowling Association and the American Amateur Bowling Union, there was still a strong desire for an all-encompassing governing body for “American Tenpins”. In September 1895, a group of men gathered at Beethoven Hall in New York City to establish such an organization.

This group voted to call itself the ‘American Bowling Congress’ and the foresight and leadership of these pioneers is reflected today as the ABC has grown into one of the sports world’s most respected organizations. By 1930 the ABC was well established and had gone through many organizational changes.

In Tenpin, you need to have rules. These men were firm in making sure they were enforced. The ABC dealt with problems in a strict but fair manner. This made people respect them more and people started forming bowling clubs.

The leaders of the game in other cities embraced the ABC’s regulations and traveled to city gatherings to lend support and share their ideas for enhancing the game and organization.

League Play (Modern Bowling)

The founding fathers of the game realized that they needed to be more like a governing body. But they also realized that there was value in the freedom of clubs and league bowling. Today, their philosophy still holds true in bowling lanes all over the world.

Although the ABC League is incorporated, it has a lot of flexibility when it comes to running operations. As long as they do not violate any ABC rules, ABC leagues have a lot of freedom in operation. Today, the national body also recognized the value of local clubs, and there are now 3,000 such local ABC groups throughout the United States.

The International Bowling Association

The first attempt to bring worldwide coordination to the sport of modern bowling by organizing global tournaments and adopting common playing rules was made in 1926. Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States all helped with the creation of the International Bowling Association (IBA).

International Bowling Federation

The International Bowling Federation (IBF) was founded in 1952 in Hamburg, Germany, by officials of the IBA to promote worldwide interest in amateur ten-pin and nine-pin bowling, as well as international friendship through promoting world and zone tournaments and other competition between bowlers from different countries. Since 1979, the IBF has organized the World Championships, and since 1985 it also organizes the combined World Tenpin Team Cup Championship.

Championship Bowling

Today there are over 100 countries that participate in international competitions under IBA/IBF sponsorship. The history of ten-pin bowling is rich with many ups and downs which makes it all the more interesting today!

Women’s International Bowling Congress

Modern Sport

Between 1916-17, women bowlers in the United States formed their own governing body. The Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC).

One of the WIBC’s primary goals was to establish a uniform set of rules for women bowlers. In order to do this, they enlisted the help of the American Bowling Congress.

In 2005, the WIBC joined forces with the ABC, the Young American Bowling Alliance (YBA), and USA Bowling to form the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).

In 2011, USBC created a new history committee that is committed to preserving our history; by developing an electronic history database that will be available to anyone who has an interest in learning more about their favorite sport’s history.

Women’s National Bowling Association

Women had been bowling just as long and competitively as men, and after women leaders from around the country created the Women’s National Bowling Association it became one of the largest women’s sports leagues.

The Professional Women’s Bowling Association

The (PWBA) organizes and oversees a series of annual tournaments. These tournaments are often called the “women’s tour” of bowling.

The Professional Women’s Bowlers Association was founded in 1960, but it shut down in 2003. The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (BPAA) re-launched the PWBA Tour in 2015 with a three-year funding commitment.

The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) began holding PWBA Regional tournaments in conjunction with The Main Event, a women’s bowling organization. In addition, the PBA has begun hosting PWBA Regional events as part of a new relationship with the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA).

Bowling Proprietors Association

The Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, Inc. is a non-profit organization — the only one in the world that serves the specific, yet diverse, interests of bowling center owners.


Bowling has come a long way since the ancient Egyptians and the days of lawn bowling. We now have the USBC, the IBF, the PWBA, the ladies pro bowlers tour, the British Tenpin Bowling Association, and many others.

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