History of Bowling Balls

Every year, more than sixty-five million people toss balls town the lanes. These simple looking balls come in many different colors, and in prices from fifty dollars to around three hundred. However, there's more to them that meets the eye. Balls have been designed to perform on different surfaces and to work well with the styles of different bowlers. Bowling balls have been around for a long time in different forms, with evidence of the sport found in a five thousand year old Egyptian grave.

Originally, bowling wasn't done on indoor lanes. Lawn bowling was the medieval version of the sport, and it was so popular that Edward III of England outlawed it to keep his soldiers' minds on practice. There have been other laws against bowling, too. Ninepins (a form using nine pins arranged in a diamond formation) was outlawed in New England, since it was associated gambling. The solution? Create the now-standard ten pin game instead.

Balls for lawn bowling, unlike modern bowling balls, were weighted asymmetrically, or made not quite round. This allowed them to curve as they were rolled. Modern bowling balls are precisely round, but still have weights inside. This affects how they spin and what their balance is. Lawn bowling balls also had no holes for the fingers, while our modern balls have either two or three. When you buy a bowling ball for yourself, the holes will be drilled to fit you.

Most older bowling balls were made out of a very hard type of wood called lignum vitae. It wasn't until the turn of the last century that people began experimenting with different materials. In 1905, the first rubber ball was made. In 1924, Brunswick Corporation produced a more advanced rubber bowling ball called the Minerality. Up until the 1970s, these hard rubber bowling balls were the dominant type.

They were followed by the polyester bowling ball, which was replaced in the 1980s by urethane. At the end of that decade, ball cores began to be made in a different way, and new surface layer options were developed, including a reactive urethane, or "resin" coating. Used in combination with the new core designs, these balls made a big difference in how people bowl. The number of perfect games in the season after these balls were introduced went up by twenty percent!

Since the mid 1990s, makers of bowling balls have been improving core designs using computer aided design programs. In just one ball model, different core designs may be used in different weights, so sophisticated is this technology. New designs are coming out faster than ever, and it's a lot harder for one company to dominate the market.

Currently, there are three types of plastic used as the coating of a bowling ball. The cheapest is polyester, which produces the smallest amount of hook. Urethane balls hook more than polyester, and are stronger and cheaper than reactive urethane. They also need less maintenance. Resin/reactive urethane balls offer the greatest hook and offer more power when they strike the pins, but they're also the most expensive.