A Comprehensive History of Table Tennis
presented by the ITTF Museum


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Like many other sports, Table Tennis began as a mild social diversion. It was probably played with improvised equipment in England, during the last quarter of the 19th century. Though Table Tennis evolved, along with Badminton and Lawn Tennis, from the ancient game of Tennis (also known as Jeu de Paume, Real tennis, Court Tennis or Royal Tennis), the game was developed after Lawn Tennis became popular in the 1880s.


Ancient woodcut showing jeu de paume game, published in 1576. ITTF Museum

Game manufacturers tried many experiments to market an indoor version of Lawn Tennis, including board and dice games, Tiddledy Winks variations, card games, racket and balloon games and others. New research by Steve Grant (Ping Pong Fever, 2012, USA) reveals that James Devonshire (ENG) invented Table Tennis, so stated by John Jaques III in a 1901 interview published in The Echo. Subsequently Alan Duke (ENG) found in The Official Journal of the Patent Office that
  • Devonshire applied for a Patent on October 9, 1885 for his "Table Tennis", the first known use of that name
  • The Nov. 24, 1885 issue of the Journal shows Provisional Specifications were accepted
  • In January 1887 the Application is listed as Abandoned.

    One quite feasible scenario is that Jaques paid Devonshire for his idea, ultimately becoming the basis for Jaques' Gossima, released in 1891. However, the lengthy time factor is a concern, as mentioned by renowned Jaques authority Michael Thomson (SCO). So one mystery solved begets another mystery!

    The 1887 catalog of George S. Parker (USA) includes an entry for "Table Tennis: This game is laid out like a Lawn Tennis court, played and counted just the same, all the rules being observed." However, this was a board and dice game by J.H. Singer (NY), whose name also appears on the catalog.


    Rare board & dice game, "Table Tennis" by J.H.Singer 1887. ITTF Museum

  • The earliest surviving action game of Tennis on a table is a set made by David Foster, patented in England in 1890: Parlour Table Games, which included table versions of Lawn Tennis, Cricket and Football. This game featured strung rackets, a 30mm cloth covered rubber ball, a wooden fence set up around the perimeter of the table, and large side nets extending along both sides.


    Early action game of tennis on a table: David Foster ENG) 1890. Only known example. ITTF Museum

    One year later famous game makers Jaques of London released their GOSSIMA
    game. This game borrowed the drum style battledores from the Shuttlecock game,
    and used a 50mm webbed wrapped cork ball, with an amazing 30cm high net that was secured by a belt-like strap under the table. Very few examples have survived.


    Jaques (ENG) GOSSIMA, 1891, with 50mm ball, 30cm high net, vellum drum rackets. ITTF Museum

    Neither of these action games were successful, due to the ineffective ball: the rubber ball had too wild a bounce, while the cork ball had too poor a bounce. Jaques continued to advertise Gossima throughout the 1890s, but it was not until c.1900, when the celluloid ball was introduced to the game, that the concept of tennis on a table became successful. Steve Grant has traced the name Ping Pong to an 1884 song by Harry Dacre. The distinct sound of the celluloid ball bouncing off the drum rackets quickly led to the use of the same name. This can still be demonstrated today using the antique rackets! As the name Ping Pong caught on, Jaques changed the name of his game to "Gossima or Ping Pong" and soon afterward, to "Ping Pong or Gossima". Ultimately the name Gossima was dropped.

    The game quickly caught on with the public, marketed under many different names:

    Ping Pong or Gossima
    Ping Pong
    Table Tennis
    Whiff Waff
    Parlour Tennis
    Indoor Tennis
    Pom-Pom
    Pim-Pam
    Netto
    Royal Game
    Tennis de Salon
    and others.


    Gradually the two most popular names prevailed: Ping Pong, and Table Tennis. However, these competing names caused some problems, as two associations were formed, and with different rules for the game some confusion resulted. Ping Pong was trademarked in 1900 by Hamley Brothers in England, and soon afterwards Hamleys became "jointly concerned" with Jaques. They rigorously enforced the Ping Pong trademark, requiring use of their Ping Pong equipment in tournaments and clubs. Parker Brothers, who acquired the American rights to the name Ping Pong, similarly enforced the trademark. Eventually it became clear that for the sport to move forward, the commercial ties had to be severed.

    Timeline of Table Tennis Milestones
    with thanks to the late Ron Crayden (ENG)
    and his book, The Story of Table Tennis - the first 100 years
    with updates by the ITTF Museum

  • 1880s     
  • Adaption of lawn tennis to the dining table with improvised equipment
  • 1885    
  • James Devonshire (ENG) granted provisional patent for his "Table Tennis"
  • 1890s    
  • Several patents registered in England and the USA
    Earliest surviving action game of table tennis: David Foster's Parlour Table Games, England 1890
    Sets produced under trade names such as Gossima, and Indoor Tennis, with Lawn Tennis style rules
  • 1900    
  • Introduction of celluloid balls to replace rubber and cork ones. The celluloid ball had the perfect bounce, and the game became a huge success
  • 1901    
  • Table Tennis Association and rival Ping Pong Association formed in England; amalgamated in 1903
    First books on the game published in England
    The game is introduced in China via western settlements
  • 1904    
  • Ping Pong craze fades, some pockets of popularity in eastern Europe continue
  • 1922    
  • Revival of the game in Europe, though laws varied
    Establishment of standard laws of the Game in England
  • 1926    
  • International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) initiated in Berlin
    First World Championships held in London, England. ITTF Constitution adopted, along with first set of standardized Laws.
    Ivor Montagu (ENG) elected first President (Chairman)
  • 1920s –
        1950   
  • Classic Hard Bat Era (European Dominance)
  • 1926–
        1931
        
  • Maria Mednyanszky (HUN) wins the World Championships five times consecutively. Mednyansky wins 18 gold medals over-all
  • 1930–
        1935
        
  • Victor Barna (HUN) becomes five times world champion and is runner-up 1931 losing the final against his compatriot Miklos Szabados. Barna wins a record 22 gold medals at world championships during his career, 40 medals overall
  • 1936    
  • Tenth World Championships held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The longest rally took place, the first point taking over two hours
  • 1939    
  • First World Championship held outside Europe: Cairo, Egypt
  • 1943    
  • First Continental Federation founded December 12: South American Confederation.
  • 1950–
        1955
        
  • Angelica Rozeanu-Adelstein (ROU) wins the World Championships six times in a row and is the last non Asian to win the female singles title until today
  • 1950s
  • Age of Sponge Bat and Technology (Beginning of Asian Dominance)
  • 1952    
  • Nineteenth World Championships held in Bombay, India The first to be staged in Asia and Japan’s entry to the international scene
    Hiroji Satoh (JPN) became the first player to win a World Championship when using a racket covered with thick sponge and is the first non-European winner
    Inauguration of the Asian Federation & First Asian Federation Championships
  • 1953    
  • China entered the World Championships for the first time
  • 1954    
  • Ichiro Ogimura (JPN) is the epitome of Japanese dominance with technological development and physical training
  • 1956    
  • Tomie Okada-Okawa (JPN) is the first female player from Asia to win the World Championships and stops the European reign on world’s female table tennis.
  • 1957    
  • World Championship changes to a two-year cycle
  • 1958    
  • First European Championships, Budapest, Hungary. The USSR made their entry to the international scene
  • 1959    
  • Rong Guotuan (CHN) is the first Chinese world champion in any sport
    Racket standardization laws enacted
  • 1962    
  • First All-Africa Championships, Alexandria, Egypt
  • 1967    
  • Ivor Montagu retired as President of the ITTF after forty years in office
  • 1971    
  • First Commonwealth Championships held in Singapore
    Ping Pong Diplomacy: table tennis played an important role in international diplomacy when several teams were invited to China for a series of friendship matches after the 1971 World Championships. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai: “Your visit to China has opened the door for people-to-people exchanges between China and the USA.”
  • 1971    
  • Stellan Bengtsson (SWE) wins the men’s singles title and heralds the start of three decades of Swedish influence, with top players such as Kjell Johansson, Mikael Appelgren, Erik Lindh, Jan-Ove Waldner, Jörgen Persson, and Peter Karlsson.
  • 1973    
  • First World University Championships held in Hanover, Germany
  • 1977    
  • ITTF received formal declaration of its recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • 1979    
  • First European Championships for Paraplegics (wheelchair players) held in Stoke Mandeville, England
  • 1980    
  • First World Cup held in Hong Kong
  • 1981    
  • World Championships held in Nova Sad, Yugoslavia. Total triumph for China, whose athletes win all of the seven gold medals
    Table tennis admitted to the Olympic programme (84th session IOC)
  • 1982    
  • First World Veterans’ Championships held in Gothenburg, Sweden
    First World Championships for the disabled held in Stoke Mandeville, England
  • 1985    
  • European Youth Championships held in The Hague, Holland
  • Modern Olympics Era (Chinese Reign with few exceptions)
  • 1988    
  • For the very first time, table tennis was featured in the Olympic Games that were held in Seoul, South Korea
  • 1992    
  • Former World champion, Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) became Olympic singles champion and reputedly, the first table tennis millionaire
  • 1995    
  • World Championships held in Tianjin, China. Total triumph for China for the second time, winning seven gold medals
  • 1996    
  • Beginning of the ITTF Pro Tour, with events taking place all around the world
  • 2000    
  • After the Olympics in Sydney, the ball size is increased to 40mm for improved television viewing
  • 2001    
  • Game score changed from 21 to 11 points World Championships held in Osaka, Japan. Total triumph for China for the third time, winning all of the seven gold medals
  • 2002    
  • Implementation of the ITTF World Junior Circuit (U18) and World Cadet Challenge (U15 continental team competition)
  • 2003    
  • First ITTF World Junior Championships in Santiago, Chile
    Team Championships separated from individual events, held in alternate years
  • 2004    
  • During the Olympic Games in Athens, Table Tennis ranked 5th among all sports for television viewing audience
  • 2005    
  • World Championships held in Shanghai, China. Total triumph again for China, winning all of the five gold medals.
  • 2006    
  • World Championships held in Bremen, Germany. The Chinese athletes complete the collection with two gold medals in the team events
  • 2007    
  • World Championships held in Zagreb, Croatia. Total triumph number five for China, winning all of the five gold medals
    First appearance of table tennis as a compulsory sport at the Universiade in Bangkok, Thailand
  • 2008    
  • China sweeps the Team championships in Guangzhou
    China wins all the Gold at the Beijing Olympic Games
  • 2010    
  • Table tennis is part of the first Youth Olympic Games