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Table Tennis History and Facts

Little-known Facts About the Intriguing History of Table Tennis

Table tennis is one of the most modern and popular games around the world. Its evolution has not been any less interesting than the game itself. Here's a rundown of some of the important events that brought this wonderful game to its current form.
Neil Valentine D'Silva
Last Updated: Mar 5, 2018
Table tennis has seen a lot of modifications and evolutions throughout its brief, but indeed fascinating history. From its humble beginnings as a post-dinner pastime, table tennis has today become a major sport to reckon with at the Olympics. This is a brief chronological summary of how ping-pong evolved into table tennis.
Late Nineteenth Century: History Begins
This was when the game's first records can be obtained. In the last few decades of the nineteenth century, the game took its initial format in elite English homes, where highborn ladies and gentlemen would amuse themselves after dinner and wine with a very grass-root version of the game. Taking anything handy to act for a ball, rackets, and the net, they would play several rounds of the game inside their dining rooms. Slowly, the game became popular all over England, but only as a post-dinner pastime.
1901: Ping-pong Becomes Official
The first real racket for the game was invented by a Regent Street sports manufacturer known as Hamley's. This racket was just a bit of parchment mounted on an almost oval frame, with a hard wooden handle. The parchment in the racket was responsible for the sounds ping and pong, which actually became the name of the game in the unofficial circuits where it was played. The name 'ping-pong' was made official by J. Jacques and Son Ltd, another English manufacturer, in the same year. In the US, the trademark was acquired from J. Jacques and Son Ltd by the Parker Brothers.
1903: The Ping and Pong Disappear
Once the name was officiated, it became more imperative to make the equipment up to perfection. E. C. Goode can be credited with the invention of the modern table tennis racket. He used a wooden bat which was reinforced with a rubber holding on the handle. This gave a better grip and made the game more fun for the player. About a year earlier, an English gentleman named James Gibb developed celluloid balls for ping-pong. The diameter used for the balls was 38 mm. These balls bounced much better on a hard surface, and were excellent for professionals to bring about spins and other spectacular results. Due to these modifications, the sound that typified the game, 'ping' and 'pong' were no longer evident.
1910-1920: Controversy
With increasing popularity, the controversies surrounding the game began to raise their head. Most countries did not want to import the game because they took it as a symbolism of the British Raj, especially in erstwhile colonies like India. The game requires very quick action and reflexes, and it was probably the first fast-paced game to be introduced to the world. However, this had its repercussions too. Some countries held certain beliefs, like the game could spoil the visual capacities of both the players and the spectators. Critics denounced the game for this reason. Countries like Russia even went as far as banning the game.
1920-1930: Campaigning and Commercializing the Game
England, the progenitor of the game made zealous efforts to bring the game into world prominence. One of the first things in this regard was to obliterate the now-redundant onomatopoeic name 'ping-pong', and replace it with something more officious. The name 'table tennis' was zeroed in upon. This name was made official when the Table Tennis Association, the world's first official body for the game, was formed in 1921. This was then expanded to become the International Table Tennis Federation, actually a separate body, that was started in 1926. The start of these organizations meant international competitions too. The world's first international table tennis competition was held in 1927 in London.
1930-1990: Modernizing the Equipment
Internationalizing the game meant more improvements in the equipment. By the mid-twentieth century, the racket was impregnated with sponge and rubber, which allowed for a very professional nuance to the game. Rackets got special mechanical improvisations, which allowed players to display expert strokes. The concept of spin and speed gained an important place in the game. But it was not until 1988 that table tennis was taken in as an Olympic sport.
1990s Onwards: Table Tennis as a Spectator Sport
The entry into the Olympics meant that table tennis had to become palatable for viewership. In its current format, it was not possible, because of the quick movements the players had to make. In order to circumvent this situation, a brilliant idea was adopted. The ball diameters were increased from 38 mm to 40 mm. This increase made the ball move slower and easier to follow on television. Changes were also made in the serving style. The game scoring was also brought down from 21 points per side to 11 points, which made it a snappy commercial idea for television.