Table Tennis: A History of the Sport

Table Tennis, Ping Pong, Wiff-Waff. Whatever you call it, the sport has been around for a long time. Experts claim that basic forms of the game have been documented as being played as early as 1884. It took a few years, but in 1989 the English sports company John Jaques & Sons were manufacturing the first Table Tennis sets. At first, the game was played with wooden rackets that had a velum canvas stretched in the frame to provide the racket face.

Thus, Ping Pong was born. It derived from the sound that was made by the velum covered rackets and the table/playing surface, striking a ball. We find that the game of table tennis has its roots in lawn tennis. The demand for Table Tennis equipment stemmed from the same period when lawn tennis became very popular in the 1870s & 1880s, and game makers tried to emulate its success by developing indoor versions of the game.

How and why do we differentiate between Table Tennis and Ping Pong? The term Table Tennis had to be legally used by the associations because Ping Pong had been registered as a trademark by the sports company John Jaques & Son in England. The rights were brought by Parker Brothers to allow them to the rights in the USA. These companies would only allow their merchandise to be used at the tournaments they promote and would take legal action against those who do not follow the rules.

The Ping Pong Association in England decided it was in their best interest to stop using this trademark name and renamed themselves the Table Tennis Association. They were the official body of the sport so the modern game has since been known as Table Tennis.

The term Ping Pong then started to fade out of use because any organization that became official would affiliate itself with the ITTF and thus adopt their rules and the name. It managed to survive in the USA and is still widely used there today. Many recreational players call it Ping Pong and so do much of the media all over the world.

Who Invented it?

There is a lot of speculation surrounding whom actually invented Table Tennis but we can now say for sure that it was a man called David Foster. In 1890 Foster introduced the first action game of tennis on a table (proved by an English Patent number 11,037 that was filed on 15 July 1890). Foster’s Table Tennis Games was a collection of table versions of Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis. The table tennis game featured strung rackets, a 30mm cloth covered rubber ball, a small wooden perimeter fence and elaborate side nets to catch stray balls. The ITTF museum is believed to have the only known surviving version of the game.

All the games were failures due to the inadequate ball. As you could imagine, the bounce was too wild with rubber balls and too poor with cork balls. And so it was not until 1900 that the game would be revived after the introduction of the celluloid ball. This was found to be perfect for the game, and it became an instant success.

ITTF Was Born…

As the popularity of the game spread, two rival organizations were set up in England with the “Table Tennis Association” and the “Ping Pong Association” formed within days of each other in 1901. Early on in the 20th century, the popularity of the sport grew quick which lead to two organizations being set up in England. The Table Tennis Association and then the Ping Pong Association, both were formed within days of each other.
Very soon after the organizations were set up, the game fell out of favor and many put their rackets down. However the sport saw a revival of sorts in the 1920s. Most of Europe was rediscovering the beauty of the sport and intrinsic in this revival was Englishman Ivor Montagu. He made the Ping Pong Association in 1921 but this was later revived to the Table Tennis Association in 1922 due to legal reasons mentioned above. By 1926 they formed the International Table Tennis Federation, which is still the major governing body many may know as the ITTF.

The ITTF was set up at a meeting in December 1926. Ivor Montagu was elected the first chairman of the ITTF with the Table Tennis rules agreed five days later. The singles rules were based on the English rules of the game at that time and the Hungarian rules of the time for doubles play.

The sport was popular in Europe at this time so the original members of the ITTF were England, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czecholsovakia, Sweden Wales and India. The first world championship competition was held in London, England, which was won by the Hungarian Roland Jacobi.

China Take Over

The country to have the biggest impact on the sport was not a founding member of the ITTF. China embraced the sport as the popularity spread around the world. For our full story on China’s Dominance of the sport click here. At first the Europeans dominated the sport, most notablythe English and Hungarians, during the first 30 years. However it wasnot long before the Japanese and Chinese players took control and have taken the majority of world titles from the 1950s onwards. The only time where they have had their perfect records blemished is during the 80’s and 90’s where the Swedish put up a fight. Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Perrson took the men’s singles in 1989,1991 and 1997. They also won the team event in 1989, 1991 and 1993.

Like any sport that exists for longer than 100 years, it will be subject to rule and name change. Table Tennis is no exception and has a great history to tell. For any more information on the history of the sport please feel free to contact us.


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