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A Brief History of Table Tennis/Ping-Pong

The past ain't what it used to be...


Table Tennis Racket and balls on table
Sami Sarkis/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
The history of table tennis (or ping-pong as it is also commonly known) is a long and interesting sequence of events, which would require a book to do it justice. In this article I'm going to give a brief overview of the origins of the game, as well as what are generally acknowledged as many of the important highlights of the game's development.

There is often conflicting information available regarding the early days of table tennis, and since I am not a historian of merit I'll settle for simply mentioning the differing opinions for completeness.

Note: If you are a fan of older table tennis photographs, I've put together an Illustrated History of Table Tennis / Ping-Pong, with the same information and some nice historical photos.

Early Origins of Table Tennis/Ping-Pong

  • 12th Century AD - The game of table tennis probably descended from the the game of "Royal Tennis" (also known as Real Tennis or Court Tennis), which was played in the medieval era.
  • 1880's - Some sources claim that the sport was once known as indoor tennis, and was played in the early 1880's by British army officers stationed in India and South Africa. These officers are supposed to have used cigar box lids as paddles, rounded wine bottle corks as balls, and books for an improvised net.
  • 1880's - The game had become fashionable among the upper classes in England.
  • 1887 - According to the ITTF website, the first use of the name "Table Tennis" appeared on a board and dice game made by J.H.Singer of New York.

  • 1890 - The earliest existing evidence of a table tennis game is a set made by David Foster, patented in England, which included table versions of Lawn Tennis, Cricket and Football.
  • 1891 - John Jacques of London introduce their "Gossima" game, which used drum-type paddles, a 50mm web wrapped cork ball, and a 30cm high net.
  • 1890's - By this time, several patents with basic rules had been registered.
  • 1890's - Parker Brothers begin making an indoor tennis kit which included a portable net, a small ball covered in netting, and paddles.

  • 1900 - Englishman James Gibb is credited with bringing hollow celluloid balls back to England from the USA, although some other sources claim they were plastic balls. Previously most balls were solid rubber or cork, often covered in material. Some sources also credit Gibb with inventing the name "ping pong", which was supposed to have been derived from the sound of the ball bouncing off the drum battledores (paddles), each of which had a different sound.
  • 1901 - John Jacques register "Ping Pong" as a trade name in England. The American rights to the name are sold to Parker Brothers.
  • 1901 - On the 12th December 1901, "The Table Tennis Association" is formed in England. Four days later, "The Ping Pong Association" is also formed in England.
  • 1901 - Table tennis is first brought to China via western settlements. (Guide note - Thanks guys - now look what you've done!)
  • 1902 - Englishman E.C.Goode is credited with putting pebbled rubber on his wooden blade, allowing him to put more spin on the ball. This is the forerunner of the ordinary pimpled rubber racket, which will dominate table tennis until 1952.
  • 1903 - On the 1st May 1903, "The Table Tennis Association" and "The Ping Pong Association" amalgamate, forming "The United Table Tennis and Ping Pong Association". This association will later revert its name to "The Table Tennis Association", before becoming defunct in 1904.

1920's - 1950's - Classic Hard Bat Era - Europe Dominates the Sport

  • 1920's - In the early 1920's the game began to revive in England and Europe.
  • 1922 - "The Table Tennis Association" is reconstituted, with the name "English Table Tennis Association" being adopted in 1927.
  • 1926 - The International Table Tennis Federation is formed.
  • 1926-1931 - Maria Mednyanszky of Hungary wins the Women's Singles event at the World Championships five times in a row.

  • 1930-1935 - Victor Barna of Hungary wins five of the six Men's Singles events at the World Championships (and was runner up in 1931).
  • 1935 - The American Ping Pong Association, US Amateur Table Tennis Association, and National Table Tennis Association merge to form the US Table Tennis Association (which was renamed USA Table Tennis in 1994).
  • 1936 - Repainted tables (which made the playing surface very slow) and a high net (6¾ inches high) combine to make attacking play very difficult at the World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. This results in the longest rally ever in a World Championships taking place, lasting over two hours.
  • 1938 - The ITTF lowers the net from 6¾ inches to 6 inches, and bans the fingerspin serves which had been used with devasting effect by American players.

  • 1940-1946 - No World Championships held due to World War II.

  • 1950-1955 Angelica Rozeanu-Adelstein of Romania wins six Women's Singles titles in a row at the World Championships. Since her last title win in 1955, every World Champion in Women's Singles has been an Asian player.

1950's - 1970's - Sponge Bat Era, Rise of Japan and China

  • 1952 - Hiroji Satoh of Japan becomes notorious for his use of a wooden racket covered in thick foam sponge rubber, which produces much more speed and spin than conventional pimpled rubber rackets. He wins the 1952 World Championships over Jozsef Koczian of Hungary, and begins a period of Asian male domination in the sport which will last until Sweden rises to supremacy from 1989 into the early 1990's.
  • 1957 - The World Championships changes to a biennial event (once every two years), due to the logistics of hosting an event of such size, and difficulty in finding suitable venues.
  • 1958 - The first European Championships is conducted in Budapest, Hungary, and sees the USSR's debut in international table tennis.
  • 1959-1960 - The ITTF standardizes the thickness of ordinary pimpled rubber and sponge rubber.
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