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 nameThe Nov. 24, 1885 issue of the Journal shows Provisional Specifications were acceptedIn 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|
Tennis de Salon
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