When Was Billiards Invented? Exploring the Sport’s Rich History – Blatt Billiards

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When Was Billiards Invented? Exploring the Sport’s Rich History

by David Roeder |

At Blatt Billiards, we know that billiards is more than just a game, and as such, its history is an important part of our lives. We’d love to share its storied history with you, so you can move forward with ordering your custom billiard table in confidence.

Billiards is an ancient game with a colorful and interesting history. Many famous people are known to have been fans of the game over the past few centuries, including Mozart, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis Carroll, Jackie Gleason and Babe Ruth to name a few.

The game was mentioned by Shakespeare in his play, Antony and Cleopatra, in the line, “Let it alone; let's to billiards: come, Charmian,” said by Cleopatra in Scene V of Act II. Of course, that doesn’t mean that billiards was played in Ancient Egypt… or was it? Read on to find out who invented the game of pool.

What Is Billiards?

Vintage clay billiard ball

Before you learn about when billiards was invented, you should know a little bit about the game. Billiards is a game with many forms, including snooker and the many varieties of pool. According to Britannica, billiards is “any of various games played on a rectangular table with a designated number of small balls and a long stick called a cue.”

In its most basic form, billiards is a game usually played by 2 people or 2 teams, and involves striking balls with a cue with the intention of shooting them into pockets, either directly or by bouncing them off the cushioned walls that edge the table’s surface.

When Was Billiards Invented?

Old illustration of a billiard club.

There is some question as to exactly when billiards was invented, but there is plenty of historical evidence to support some popular theories on the subject. But before we get into what we do know, here’s some interesting speculation:

There is a record of an ancient Greek traveler named Anacharsis who reportedly saw some Egyptians playing a game that may or may not have been similar to billiards about 2.5 thousand years ago, and that it may have been adopted by the Greeks.

The passing of time means that we will never know how similar, if at all, this game actually was to billiards, but it is fun to imagine. What we do know for sure is that some version of billiards has been played for at least the last 680 years.

Our first solid record of when billiards was played is from the 1340s in France, although you would not recognize it as the game we play today. It was an outdoor game back then, and looked something like the game of croquet, played on the grass with a mallet.

Who Invented Billiards?

Family playing a game of Billiards

Sadly, we have no way of knowing who the very first inventor of billiards was—that information has been lost to time. However, a number of important people have had a strong bearing on the evolution of the game and what it has become.

  • Billiards took some time to move completely indoors, but the first person who is known to have owned an indoor billiard table was King Louis XI of France in the 1400s.
  • 200 years later, King Louis XIV had an important influence on the game, making it quite popular with the nobility and changing some of its basic aspects.
  • The furniture maker John Thurston became an important name in the world of billiards, as he began to meet the growing need for billiard tables in Europe.
  • John Wesley Hyatt is responsible for the composite billiard ball.
  • Captain Mingaud is remembered for inventing the cue tip we know today.
  • John M. Brunswick started building billiard tables in his machine shop in 1845, becoming a force in the industry.

The History of Pool

antique billiard table with balls

During King Louis XIV’s reign in the 1600s, billiards was still played with a sort of club, similar to a croquet mallet, and the ball was pushed around, rather than hit. There were no pockets on the tables yet, but there were cushions to keep the balls in, and there were a range of other obstacles on the table.

The point of the game was similar to that of croquet, with obstacles and a “goal” through which the ball must be directed. However, the mallet made taking shots off the cushion difficult, and people started using the handle end for those tougher shots. By the end of the 1600s, the popularity of using the handle of the mallet had grown, and the concept of the cue began to take shape.

Over the next 100 years, the game spread dramatically, becoming the standard pastime in the cafés on the streets of Paris. By then it was played by many upper class citizens, rather than just the nobility.

Slowly, the idea of pockets or holes was introduced, but not as a goal—they were called hazards, just like in golf, and were to be avoided. As the other obstacles were slowly removed and the game was refined, the pockets eventually became the target.

The Introduction of Industry

At the end of the 1700s, with the industrial revolution raging, billiards experienced some dramatic and important changes. The cue we know today was developed and refined, the cushions began to be made of more suitable materials, and tables were standardized, making the game more fair, and allowing players to vastly improve their skills.

The 1800s were the time when billiards really began to take shape as the game we know today, as well as when some of its newer forms came to light.

Pool and Snooker

In the USA, the game known as pocket billiards became popular in the betting houses for horse races, as a way for gamblers to keep themselves busy. Because the money gathered for a bet is called a pool, the game of pocket billiards became known as “pool” due to its association with the gambling halls.

It was also during the 1800s that another billiards spin-off was invented, named snooker. In 1875, a British lieutenant called Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain was messing around while playing a game of black pool, and added in some extra colored balls.

Playing with a group of men who were confused about his new rules, he told them they were all rookies at his new game—only the term used for a rookie at the Royal Military Academy at the time was a “snooker,” and the name took hold.

About 10 years later, the British billiards champion was visiting India, and met Lieutenant Chamberlain at a dinner. He showed great interest in the game, and had Chamberlain explain the rules to him. He showed the new game to people in England, and within 25 years, snooker equipment was being produced and sold in the UK.

Blatt Billiards: A Billiards Company for the Generations

Now that you have deeper knowledge of this sport’s lively and diverse history, you can move on to the ultimate enjoyment—playing billiards on your own custom-made Blatt Billiards table. Contact us today to begin the process of creating a game table of superior craftsmanship and quality to last the generations.