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.|
Lawn Tennis board game by Singer (USA), another indication that the sport was very popular in the 1880s ITTF Museum
Renowned researcher Alan Duke (ENG) recently discovered an English patent by Ralph Slazenger, No. 3156, dated 26 June 1883 (and likely months developing the idea before filing the Application), for improved nets for games. The patent describes net post mechanisms, with this important statement:
"This arrangement is adapted for ordinary lawn tennis, and for a modified game to be played indoors, say upon a billiard or dining table. In the latter case the poles are supported in brackets clamped to the table and the ends of the cord may be clamped by the cam arrangement, or fastenend under the table, or weighted."
Duke correctly concludes that this "quite possibly is now the earliest known reference to a table version of tennis (and, importantly, accurately dated)." However, no evidence has been found that such a game was developed at that time.
Steve Grant (Ping Pong Fever, 2012, USA) found mention of one James Devonshire (ENG), who John Jaques claimed invented Table Tennis in a 1901 interview published in The Echo. Subsequently Alan Duke found in The Official Journal of the Patent Office that:
Devonshire applied for a Patent on October 9, 1885 for his "Table Tennis".The Nov. 24, 1885 issue of the Journal shows Provisional Specifications were acceptedIn January 1887 the Application is listed as Abandoned. Once again no evidence of Devonshire's game, nor advertisement has been found; quite likely it was never put into production.
One 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).
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. Earliest production use of the name Table Tennis. ITTF Museum
The earliest surviving action game of Tennis on a table is a set
made by David Foster, patented in England in 1890 (No.11037): Parlour Table Games, which
included table versions of Lawn Tennis, Cricket and Football. The Lawn Tennis 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.|
Lithograph segment, earliest known action game of tennis on a table: David Foster (ENG) 1890. One of 2 known examples.
Foster's rules, found at Cambridge University by Steve Grant (USA). The rules are very brief (unlike those for the companion games of table cricket and football). Note rule 3, which mentions 'Table Tennis'. Steve also discovered that Foster patented his game compendium in Canada.
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. The white belt was used to secure the large wood net fixtures to the table. 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 Ping Pong 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