Ping pong, known around the world as “table tennis,” has been played and enjoyed around the world for more than 140 years, and at that time, a lot of things have changed since its humble beginnings. The history of ping pong is a long and interesting story, but this article will provide you a short overview of the origins of the game.
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Origins of Ping Pong
Ping pong started as a parlor game, open to anyone with access to a paddle, a table, and a ball. This was invented in the 1880s in Victorian England, where lawn tennis players tried to play inside during the winter when it was freezing cold outside. The bright idea caught on quickly, making it more accessible to play at home as it doesn’t need an ample space out to be played.
However, historians note that the game of table tennis probably descended from the Royal Tennis game during the 12th century or the medieval era. Some sources also claim that this sport was once known as indoor tennis first played in the early 1880s by British army officers stationed in India, and brought it back with them. Back then, the game went by many different names depending on the company selling the equipment. Some of the names formed were ping-pong, whiff waff, pom-pom, pim-pam, table tennis, and lots of others. Eventually, the name Ping Pong and Table Tennis stuck. In 1901, the Ping Pong Association was formed, which was ultimately renamed as Table Tennis Association in 1922.
Ping Pong was a trademark name for table tennis and its associated equipment, invented by the British manufacturer John Jacques and Son at the end of the 1800s. After seeing the game became popular, they trademarked the name “Ping pong” worldwide. The rights for the name was sold to the Parker Brothers in the US. The Parker Brothers then enforced the trademark in the 1920s, making other associations change their names to “Table Tennis” instead of the trademarked term.
Originally, ping pong was played in dining rooms or billiard tables where players would set up nets across the table and even nets for the sides for catching the ball. In India, the British army used a row of books placed along the center of the table to act as a net, and two more books to serve as rackets to hit a golf ball, which acted as a makeshift ping pong ball.
There are many different types of balls in different sizes made using different materials. Before the 1900s, they were made out of cork or rubber, but it wasn’t ideal as the bounce of the rubber ball was too unpredictable. Also, the cork ball isn’t enough.
In 1901, Englishman James W. Gibb brought hollow celluloid balls back to England from the US, which was perfect to use for the game. Some people credit Gibb as the inventor of the name “ping pong” because of the sound of the ball bouncing off the paddles. The 38mm ball became the standard and was used throughout the century until the size was increased to 40mm in 2000. In 2014, the balls became made out of plastic instead.
The early table tennis bats were made out of wood and covered in vellum canvas. In 1902, Englishman E.C. Goode invented a more recognizable paddle, which had pebbled rubber on a wooden blade that puts more spin on the ball. This is the forerunner of the ordinary pimpled rubber racket that became popular since 1952.
The Rise to Popularity
From England, the sport has spread in all parts of the world. Table tennis was growing in popularity by 1901, and tournaments were being organized. An unofficial world championship was held in 1902. That same year, a visiting Japanese professor in a university took the game back to Japan and introduced it to his students. Shortly after, a British salesman named Edward Shires introduced this game to the people of Vienna and Budapest. In Britain, the game began to spread outside the middle-class confines in London, and leagues were started in provincial towns.
The Classic Hard Bat Era (1920s to 1950s)
Table tennis quickly went out of style in the 1900s soon after it became popular. But it experienced a revival in the 1920s. The rules began to be standardized in 1926 when the International Federation of Table Tennis was formed in Berlin and held the first-ever world championships in England.
The 1920s to 1950s was known as the Classic Hard Bat era because of the lack of sponge on the rackets at that time. Europe dominates the sport, as European players continued to win the championship over these three decades.
In 1936, a few rules were changed by the ITTF, such as increasing the height of the net to 6 ¾ inches and repainted the tables. It made the game slower and harder for attacking players. The World Championships in Prague that year caused a rally that lasted over two hours – the longest rally ever recorded during a world championship game. The net was lowered to six inches in 1938 and banned the fingerspin serves, which has been used with devastating effects by American players.
The Sponge Bat Era (1950s to 1970s)
During the 1950s, there was a big change in technology used in table tennis bats. Japanese player Hiroji Satoh used a racket with a layer of foam sponge rubber that caused him to be able to gain more speed and spin. He won the 1952 World Championships. Satoh became notorious for this racket, which became a standard after that. British sports goods manufacturer SW. Hancock Ltd. introduced new paddles sandwiched in rubber with an underlying sponge layer.
In the 1970s, table tennis became political. A friendly exchange between American and Chinese players led to an exchange of players and a visit to China by President Nixon in 1971, which was also known as the Ping Pong Diplomacy. This opened the doors between the two countries during the Cold War, and the embargo on China was lifted. Before that time – around 1965 to 1971 – China disappeared from world table tennis events under the rule of Ma Tse-Tung.
The Speed Glue Era (1970s to 2000s)
In the 1970s, tennis players discovered that using a bicycle tire repair glue to place rubber on a bat led to increased speed and spin with their rackets. This became known as the speed glue. The discovery of this secret is credited to Dragutin Surbek of Yugoslavia and Tibor Klampar of Hungary.
China became the dominant force during the start of this era in both men and women’s events. However, their reign was brought to an end in 1989, with Swedish players winning consecutively in the following years.
In 1980, the first World Cup event was held in Hong Kong. Then in 1988, table tennis became an Olympic sport in South Korea. In 1985, the two-color rule was adopted to reduce the effectiveness of the combination rackets.
After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the ITTF instituted several changes in the rules aimed at making table tennis a more viable televised sport. This caused them to replace the older 38 mm balls to 40 mm that year. This change increased the ball’s resistance and slowed down the game. This time, players began to increase the thickness of the fast sponge layer on the paddles, making the game fast and difficult to watch on TV. The ITTF made another adjustment, moving the game from a 21-point to an 11-point scoring system in 2001.
In 2000, the frictionless long pimples became popular among players, attempting to negate the power of spin produced by the speed glue. It was later banned in 2006 by the ITTF. The organization also withdrew its approval of all table tennis glues in 2007, after a health incident reported involving a speed glue user in Japan. By 2008, using speed glues with illegal VOCs were banned for all ITTF junior competitions.