The history of billiards has a long, rich history dating back to the 14th and 15th century. Although it was originally believed to have started in Spain or Italy, it was probably first in France or England. Popularity of the game spread among royalty and the noble families of England and France in the early 1500″s. Shakespeare made reference to the game in his play “Anthony and Cleopatra” when Cleopatra suggests to her handmaiden, “let us to billiards.” The term billiard is derived from one of two French words, “billiart” meaning- one of the wooden sticks, or “bille”, meaning -a ball.
The game evolved from a lawn game similar to croquet and moved indoors to a wooden table with a green cloth to simulate grass. Balls were pushed with wooden sticks called “maces”. Originally the tables had flat walls for rails, their only purpose being to keep the balls from falling off the table. The tables were large (11 or 12 foot) and rectangular. The English used a table with 6 pockets and the Americans used a table with 4 pockets. John Thurston of London made major improvements in the functionality of the billiard table. Tables had been made out of wood with some being made out of marble. Around 1826, he began using slate for the table bed. Slate was more suitable because it was heavy, making the table solid and it was a material that could easily produce a smooth surface and not warp. Slate is still used today for the surface of the table.
During the 19th century, billiards gained a huge following, especially in England. Many Kings and Queens owned billiard tables. It became popular among rulers in South Africa, Australia, India, and the South Pacific as well as Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Russia. The game continued to grow in North America. New York had 50-60 billiard rooms by 1850. Supposedly, by 1860, there were billiard rooms in every state of the American Union. During the Civil War, there was more media coverage of billiards than war news. After WWII, the game of billiards declined due to the returning soldiers building careers and buying homes. More and more rooms closed and by the end of the 1950’s it seemed as though the game was nonexistent. After the release of the 1961 movie “The Hustler” about the dark life of a pool hustler, starring Paul Newman, the game was revived. More pool rooms began to open through the 1960’s until the Vietnam War came along as well as more people participating in outdoor activities. This led to yet another decline in the sport. After the “Color of Money” (sequel to “The Hustler”) movie came out starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise in the 1980’s, there was more excitement about pool in a new generation. More upscale rooms were opened and the popularity continued to grow. There is still much fun and excitement about the game today in the 21st century.