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Fact. More than 70 million people in the United States bowl during a year. Fact. More than three million compete regularly in league play certified by the United States Bowling Congress. Staff at USBC Headquarters in suburban Milwaukee works closely with about 4,000 local associations to serve the three millions members.

Bowling has soared into the upper echelon of sports, setting a steady pace by blending strong organization with modern centers in which to participate. Although the sport now appeals to people from all walks of life, entering a bowling center today would give few clues to its origin.

Bowling has been traced to articles found in the tomb of an Egyptian child buried in 5200 B.C. The primitive implements included nine pieces of stone at which a stone "ball" was rolled, the ball having first to roll through an archway made of three pieces of marble.

Another ancient discovery was the Polynesian game of ula maika, also utilizing pins and balls of stone. The stones were to be rolled at targets 60 feet away, a distance which today still is one of the basic regulations of tenpins.

Bowling at pins probably originated in ancient Germany, not as a sport but as a religious ceremony. Martin Luther is credited with settling on nine as the ideal number of pins.

The game moved throughout Europe, the Scandinavian countries, and finally to the United States, with the earliest known reference to bowling at pins in America made by author Washington Irving about 1818 in "Rip Van Winkle."

The game was being played throughout the world and rules were different almost everywhere. Even basic equipment was not the same. In fact, why and when the extra pin was added from the European game of ninepins to the American game of tenpins still is a mystery.

Regardless of how the game came into being, it became so popular by mid-19th century indoor lanes were being built throughout Manhattan and the Bronx and on westward, in Syracuse, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities with large German populations.

In 1875, delegates from nine bowling clubs in New York and Brooklyn met in Germania Hall in the Bowery and organized the National Bowling Association. This was the first attempt to bring order out of chaos.

Disagreement raged between East and West, principally the alignment of New York State bowlers against everyone else to the west. On Sept. 9,1895, the American Bowling Congress was organized in Beethoven Hall in New York City.

A group of 40 women, encouraged by proprietor Dennis J. Sweeney of St. Louis, met at Sweeney's establishment in 1916 and formed what was known as the Women's International Bowling Congress.