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The History of Billiards

Updated on March 19, 2009
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The word "billiards" comes from the Norman French word billiart, which means "stick." The game originated in England in the 14th century as an attempt to adapt lawn bowling to indoor play during the winter. Since no room was large enough for a lawn-bowling court, the game was adopted for large tables. Arches were first used instead of pockets, and the original cues were actually maces, or rods with flat wooden heads.

Near the end of the 18th century another change was instituted. The point of the cue was beveled all around, thus creating a still broader surface. Leather tips were added later to protect the balls from chipping. In the 19th century an English player, Jack Carr, discovered that chalk applied to the leather tip prevented slipping and let the player give eccentric twists to the cue ball (by striking it off center) that became known as side, or English.

The first billiard table on the American continent was brought to Florida in 1565 by a Spanish family. The game found favor with George Washington and others before and after the Revolution.

The first championship in the United States was held in Detroit in 1859. The game played then, called "old style play," was four-ball carom billiards.

The first great billiards player was Jacob Schaefer, Sr., who was champion from the 1870's through the early years of the 20th century. His successor, Willie Hoppe, is generally regarded as the greatest all-around billiards player who ever lived. He died in 1959. Willie Mosconi followed him as champion.


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