The game of “pool” has been around for centuries, although the exact date is unknown, its earliest form has been associated with the Egyptians in 400 B.C. and then the Greeks.
Some even say that it may have originated from China, Italy or Spain where they played games with balls on a table. However, we do know that “pool” or billiards as it was first known, became popular in Europe in the 15th century because this is where the earliest record of how the game was made was recorded.
The first billiard table was discovered among the possessions belonging to King Louis XI who ruled France from 1461 to 1483. Would that be considered the first “pool” table? Does that billiard table even resemble the pool table of today? Let’s see if we can gather more information about the game and how things evolved.
How did it all start?
As stated above, billiards became popular in Europe during the 15th century as an outdoor activity similar to croquet. The game moved indoors and used a wooden table with a simple border around the edges to prevent the balls from rolling off.
The table top was lined with green cloth that “simulated” grass like the previous outdoor activity. The ball was shoved not struck by a wooden stick called a mace. The mace had a large head which made it difficult to shove the ball when it was against the rail.
The player would turn the stick around and use the handle, also known as the “queue” (we get the word “cue”), to strike the ball. The cue stick was developed in the late 1600s. Even though, billiards became a game associated with nobility, in truth it had been experienced by individuals from all walks of life.
The pool table evolution
Since the first billiard table was discovered in King Louis XI possession and he ruled in the late 1400’s, I guess that would be when the pool table was invented. King Louis XI table did not have pockets, but had one hole in the middle of the table.
There is no record of who the inventor or builder was for this or any other tables that were constructed. More than likely these early tables were built by furniture makers. The original tables were made of wood, had flat walls for rails that were also called “banks” because they resembled river banks. The term “bank shot” came from the discovery that balls could bounce off the rails and rebound as part of the shot.
The original billiard/pool tables did not have fixed dimensions. However, in the 18th century, a two-to-one ratio of length to width became the standard for these tables. Tables now had pockets along the sides. Some had four pockets, one at each corner of the table and others had six, one at each corner and then in the middle on the long sides of the table. Changes to billiard/pool equipment improved in the 1800’s due to the Industrial Revolution. The following is a list of the improvements:
Before cue sticks had tips, chalk was being used to increase friction (early 1800s)
Leather cue tips were perfected (around 1823)
The two-piece cue developed (around 1829)
Slate was used for table beds (around 1835)
Rubber billiard cushions (around 1845)
Billiard table evolved to current form (around 1850)
There have been many more changes, not only to the pool table, but to the game itself since the 19th century. Pool or billiards has had its ups and downs in popularity throughout the years, but it is still played all around the world, by men, women and children, for fun, prestige and even for money; and to think, it probably started in the 15th century on a wooden table with one hole!