The history of small ball bowling actually dates back almost 7000 years. As was the custom, ancient Egyptians buried the departed's most prized possessions with the deceased. The illustration to the left is from The Making of Egypt by Sir Flinders Petrie. It gives evidence from 5200 B.C. of small ball bowling.
Throughout history, the act of using a small hand held ball to either bowl at other small balls (lawn bowling and boccie) or at pins was evident throughout the world. The illustration to the right depicts a game of "Skittles" being played in 1588 by the great English Admiral, Sir Francis Drake. In the background the Spanish Armada approaches in the English Channel.
Here a game of Skittle pins were set up on a wooden frame. Bowling one turn was referred to as bowling a frame.
Now, a little closer to home both in location and in time, the illustration to the right shows the Pilgrims throwing a small ball at small pins in the early 1600's. This photo is found exhibited at the Plimouth Plantation, Plymouth, Mass.
This photograph shows the two men credited with giving us Candlepin Bowling. The man on the left, Justin "Pop" White, left his job at a boot shop to buy a pool and bowling establishment on Pearl Street in Worcester, Mass. Back then many different types of pins were is use, depending on the customer's preference. The wider "tenpin" set 10 to 11 inches apart proved to be too easy and boring to many and they would lose interest. White found 10 inch broomsticks and 3 inch balls in storage at his new alley. He put them out but the game was very difficult and short-lived. Later in 1880 he thought of pins 12 inches in height, 2 inches wide at the center tapering to 1 inch at each end. Using a 4 inch ball, the game became very popular. The man on the right, John J. "Jack" Monsey took this idea, and with extremes in energy and vision, promoted this new game of Candlepins. He was able to convince other Worcester proprietors that making the game standard was necessary for it to proliferate. He is credited with standardizing the ball size to 4 1/2 inches, the same size in play today. He also standardized the required playing of deadwood, which up until this time could be played or removed at the bowler's discretion. Now the game was standard in Worcester. It wasn't until 1905 that Monsey helped form the The National Duckpin and Candlepin Congress, that Candlepin bowling became standard throughout. To become standard was the Boston pin, the 4 1/2 inch ball, the playing of deadwood and the bowling of 2 boxes at a time. In Worcester 5 boxes was standard, in Boston it was 2 boxes. From this point on, it became possible to have state and "world" championship competition.
This photograph shows the alleys in the Worcester Y.M.C.A. Note the poor lighting, the stand-up scorecard at the foul line, the unfinished lanes, unpainted pins and during this time, bowling balls made out of various materials of differing sizes.
This photo, taken in Worcester about 1906, shows the huge crowd sitting to watch a match between Billie Winch and a man named Wray. A few interesting side notes. Notice the rolled up curtain. This was lowered when ladies bowled, which wasn't often. Also notice that the spectators are dressed in their Sunday best. The haze that causes the photo to appear blurred down the lane is actually smoke filling the room, no doubt from the crowd. The lanes were made of a darker wood.
Even though the newly born game of Candlepins was popular, there was little consistency between establishments. The sketch to the right shows the differing types and sizes of pins used the the late 1800's and early 1900's. The 2nd pin from the left was known as the Worcester pin, created by Justin White. The 3rd pin from the left was known as the Boston pin. It was taller and wider than the Worcester Pin. Eventually in 1905, through the dedication and efforts of Jack Monsey, it became the standard throughout.
This was what bowlers saw at the "alleys" until the year 1953. Even the most experienced and dedicated pinboys couldn't set up pins exactly the same way every time, even though pin spots were used to guide them. When finished setting the 10 pins they would jump up to the high bench in back of the pits. During this era, city, state and world championship matches were quite common. Bowlers breaking records made newspaper headlines.
Here is a picture you haven't seen! During World War 1 there was a shortage of pin"boys" due to the draft. Here you see pin "girls" Pearl LeCourt (left) and Betty Bonsey at the Old South Bowling Alleys, Boston, in 1917.
Lanes today are made of Rock Maple wood. The photo to the right shows lanes being built in 1960. The 41 or 42 pieces 1 inch wide and 2 1/2 inch deep wood are nailed together in a vertical column and then lowered into place. The wooden foundation of criss-crossed wood is placed over a cement floor. Each and every place where the foundation boards crossed was leveled with shims. Once lowered into position, the gutters and approaches would be installed. This photo was taken during the construction of State Bowl, in Springfield, Mass in 1960.
Candlepin bowling , even though very popular, was in trouble. With a scarcity of people willing to set pins, many proprietors were forced to use 1 pinboy across many lanes. Sometimes customers could only bowl if they set their own pins. Operators were faced with paying higher and higher fees to pinboys, and Social Security added to the cost. Earlier attempts to make a reliable automatic pinsetter failed. However, in 1947, Howard Dowd and Lionel Barrow, both attorneys, had their "Bowl-Mor" automatic pinsetter ready. In 1949 they installed 4 of them at the lanes in Whalom Park, Lunenburg, Mass. For the first time in Candlepin history, pins were set up exactly the same every frame.
It wasn't until 1953 that proprietors finally began to trust this new technology. In Newburyport, Mass, Paul Tedford built a 12 lane bowling "center" and roller skating rink. It wasn't dark or dingy. It wasn't located in a basement of a building. It had a snack bar. But most importantly, it had working, reliable Bowl-Mor pinsetters. Once other proprietors saw this work, the proliferation of Candlepin bowling centers began. Existing operations installed this equipment and new bowling centers, commonly referred to as "Bowladromes", began to be built everywhere.
This photo of Bowl-Mor ( Model D ) pinsetters taken from Timber Lanes, Abington, Mass. This view is from on top of lane 16. Note the "catwalk", painted in yellow. The right portion is hinged and swings up to allow access to the area where the pins stand. The underside is painted red to alert everyone that a catwalk left up can be a dangerous hazard.
Note that on most lanes pins are sitting on the conveyor belts. This is a pinsetter ready to reset. Lane 15 is still loading. The colored material seen to the left of the catwalk was used during Cosmic Bowling. It was wrapped under the catwalk, covering the deck light. Since this picture was taken, a second pindeck light was added to replace the fabric. With colored transparent tubes over the light bulb now, we can add color to the pins with a simple flip of a switch. At the upper left computers can be seen which control the lane scoring system. On the right, the white boxes contain a backup supply of new bowling shoes and further down a variety of spare parts.
This is a view of the back of a Bowl-Mor pinsetter. The black curtain in the center blocks the pins from flying out the back while people bowl. The pins fall into the pit, which rotates. The pins slide into the pin lift and are carried to the top. When full, they are pushed onto the conveyor belts (as seen above) and the cycle begins again.
Seasoned league bowlers at Timber Lanes might notice that the pinlift is carrying an orange "Bonus Pin", which has significance when the orange pin sets as the headpin during league bowling. Unfortunately, the next open slot above is the 4 pin. Maybe next time.
This is a great photo of the top of a pinsetter. The conveyor belts can be seen easily. Note that even though the pins have been pushed onto the belts, indicating the pinsetter is ready to be reset, remaining pins in the pit continue to load, as can be seen.
The two metal rails between lanes 17 & 18 are the beginning of the ball return. Here the ball, being at the highest point, begins it journey back to the bowler.
The chains and gear assembly seen to the right power the tube board which lowers the pins to the pindeck once the sweep is almost finished clearing the deck.
In the upper left a small gray box with an orange lid can be seen. This is our power driven pin cleaning machine. By constantly cleaning pins, they stay bright and clean.
Black & white photos and most historical information taken from The Game Of Candlepin Bowling By Florence E. Greenleaf. Those interested in more in-depth reading on the history of Candlepin bowling can purchase this book at Timber Lanes for $25.00. It is hard covered and would make a great gift to any Candlepin bowling enthusiast.