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Table Tennis: More Than Just A Pasttime

Aug 18, 2007
Since its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, table tennis has acquired a huge number of enthusiastic followers, and the game itself has changed from a parlor game to a real sport.

The origins of table tennis, as of most other racket games, are obscure. Some claim that it originated in England; others say it was developed by English army officers stationed in India; and still others assert that it was first played in New England. Regardless of where it began, the game enjoyed the popularity of a fad in England, on the Continent, and in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, under various names such as "gossima" and "ping pong" - the latter name deriving from the sound made by the contact between ball and racket.

In its earliest form, table tennis was played with small racquets and battledores, and a light rubber ball, covered with a knitted web. In the late 1890's, the substitution of a celluloid ball for the rubber one then in use made the game still more popular. Because of the simplicity of the game and the lack of standardized rules and equipment, almost everyone was a good player.

In 1905, E. C. Goode of London introduced the rubber-faced racket, which made possible a variety of strokes and spins impossible with the primitive bat of the nineteenth century. This racket was substantially the same as the one used today. Despite the new possibilities which the invention of this racket provided for the development of a really scientific sport, the game lost its popularity shortly after Mr. Goode's innovation appeared on the market. Only in Hungary were players sufficiently interested in the game to continue playing.

About 1920 there was a revival of interest in table tennis in Europe, led primarily by the Hungarians who were to dominate international play until 1937. The International Table Tennis Federation was founded in 1926 in Berlin, modeled after an earlier organization formed in England, and the first set of official rules was adopted.

By this time the United States had once more become interested in the game, and the American Ping Pong Association was formed in 1930. The Association - and the tournaments which it sponsored - encouraged by the Parker Brothers of Salem, Massachusetts, who had patented the name "ping pong" some years before, and who were consequently the only manufacturers of "official" ping-pong equipment in America.

Other manufacturers of parlor games, aware of the profits to be made in producing equipment for this fast-growing sport, copied the Parker Brothers' product. Unable to market it under the patented name "ping pong," they called their table and rackets "table tennis" equipment, and sponsored the formation of the United Slates Table Tennis Association.

Each organization ran tournaments and established a national championship, and the rivalry, fed by the parlor-game manufacturers, encouraged interest in the sport still more. In 1934 the manufacturers finally banded together and the two associations were merged as the United States Table Tennis Association. The Association today is a non-commercial group with members in almost every state. It regulates the rules of the game, publishes a monthly magazine, sends the best American players to compete in amateur and World Championship tournaments in Europe, and generally promotes the growth of the game.

Table tennis has safely passed through the fad stage, and today has achieved a permanent place as one of America's most popular sports. Equipment is standardized and rules are specific. The scientific principles governing the behavior of a celluloid ball hit by a rubber-covered racket have now been explored and formulated to the extent that what was once a genteel parlor game which anyone could win is now a fast and thrilling sport, whose champions are among the swiftest and most agile of athletes.
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