The modern incarnation of billiards may look something like this: Walking through a smoke-filled bar to reach a room crammed with pool tables and filled with even denser smoke. The rather unsavory crowd barely acknowledges your presence, and you wonder once again why billiards has for so long been called the “noble game? “
Although your local billiards hall may not look like a gathering of royalty, the
billiards games of yesteryear did. As long ago as the 1600s there are records of billiards being played by British royalty, though the game barely resembled what is played today. Billiards, which moved from a popular lawn game to its final indoor model, was mentioned in William Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra.
After the industrial revolution provided better game equipment in the 1800s, billiards began to make its way into the USA. The term “English” that is used in reference to the spin put on a ball was a term used by the Americans at the time who observed the way the English shot the ball and mastered the game. There are a few reports of the game being played in the USA long before the 1800s. Some reports indicate St. Augustine brought the game in 1580 and others state that George Washington won a game around 1748. However it was not until the 1800s that parlors opened with billiards being the central activity.
The popularity of billiards in the United States was perhaps enhanced most by Michael Phelan. He created a standardized set of rules, and through his long beloved newspaper column, he created the demand for the new sport. Phelan and his colleagues eventually formed the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company which controlled the form, design, and expansion of the game of billiards in the USA.
So, the next time you descend into your local pool hall or the latest billiards tournament in the local bowling alley, don’t forget to honor the noble history of billiards. Remember that the game you just won has added to the illustrious history of billiards, or that the game you just lost was similarly lost by much more accomplished people than you–in a different era. Kings and Presidents have similarly won and lost at billiards, though they probably were able to drown their sorrows with something better than cheap beer and mozzarella sticks. Have a swig in memory of the royal history of the “noble game.”