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The History of Ping Pong

Maddy Marcus / June 18, 2020
The History of Ping Pong

Did you know that ping pong is the most popular indoor sport in the world? While there are not many indoor sports that may come to mind, ping pong is the most widely known. However, the game didn’t become the most popular indoor sport overnight. The history of ping pong is both long and complex. Keep reading to learn who invented it and how it has evolved over the decades. 

The History of Ping Pong

Where did table tennis come from anyway? Well, it turns out that table tennis started back in the 1880s in Victorian England as a way to continue playing lawn tennis during the winter months.

The trend took off as a more accessible version of the popular game and many companies began producing manufactured game sets. Some of the other names table tennis sets on the shop shelves include:

  • Gossima
  • Pim-Pam
  • Whiff Waff
  • Pom-Pom

The term "ping-pong" was first trademarked by J. Jaques & Son Ltd, a British manufacturer, who then sold the trademark rights in the US to an American company, Parker Brothers. To avoid lawsuits, all other companies had to market their products as table tennis or some other moniker. 

1920 - 1950: Hard Bats and Regulations

Enthusiasts think of this period as the Classic Hard Bat era because of the lack of spongy material on the rackets produced at that time. 

After falling out of vogue at the turn of the century, table tennis saw a revival in the 1920s. In 1926, The International Federation of Table Tennis was formed in Berlin, Germany, and then the first table tennis world championships happened in England.

Then, in 1936, the International Federation of Table Tennis enacted regulations such as changing the height of the nets to 6 3/4". Later that year, during the World Championships in Prague, one match lasted over 2 hours! That's still the record for the longest ever rally during a world championship table tennis game!

1950 - 1970: Sponge Bats and New Champions

The 1950s brought in a new era of bat style in the history of ping pong. A Japanese player by the name of Hiroji Satoh had a racket with a layer of foam. This spongy bat helped him develop more speed and ball spin. He would go on to win the 1952 world championships!

Around this time, ping pong had become a favorite pastime in Asian countries. Professional players from countries like China, Japan, and Korea began to dominate the ping pong world championships over the Europeans.

Also, in the 1970s, ping pong diplomacy (initiated between the United States and Chinese table tennis players) helped heal the tension between the United States and China and then-President Nixon even traveled to China for discussions. Because of the new forged diplomatic relationship, the United States even lifted their cold war embargo on China!

1970 - 2000: Speed Glue and Olympic Honors

The next major shift in bat construction came in the 1970s when players began using bicycle tire repair glue to apply rubber to the bat. This rubber surface allowed players to generate even more bat speed and ball spin with their rackets. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, Asian dominance in the ping pong championships continued. Then, China’s table tennis dominance came to a grinding halt in 1989 when Sweedish ping pong players won the 1989, 1991, and 1993 team table tennis events. Also, Swedish players took two Men’s World ping pong Championship titles in 1989 and 1991!

This era also saw ping pong become an Olympic sport in the 1988 Korean Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea. At that time, there were singles and doubles table tennis competitive events.

The 70s also brought the first-ever digital ping pong game called Pong. It was developed by Allan Alcorn in 1972 as one of the first-ever arcade games. You may recognize it from the simple, two-dimensional graphics: white lines for paddles atop a black background. It was later brought to home consoles by Atari after the soaring popularity. Pong also served as inspiration for the Coolmath version, Retro Ping-Pong!

Table Tennis in the Modern World

One of the reasons table tennis took off in the first place was the increased accessibility. These days table tennis is still a popular game for children and adults alike. Ping pong tables remain a staple in most recreation centers around the country.

The competitive circuit is still very active. In 2016, there were over 50 full-time table tennis clubs in the United States alone! Ping pong is still an Olympic event, but they ended the doubles competitions in favor of ping pong team events instead.

It's Time for a Game of Ping Pong!

Though we don't know who invented ping pong, we do know where it originated and who first trademarked the name "ping pong". The long and illustrious history of ping pong only adds to the time-honored indoor sports tradition.

Table tennis is the perfect sport to play when all others have shut down or when the weather becomes too harsh for outdoor activities. No wonder why ping pong is still one of the most popular indoor sports in the world!

Now, for those who don't have enough room for a full ping pong table, you can play a game on your home PC or laptop!