Billiards or pool is generally considered to have originated as an outdoor lawn game in Europe around the late 14th or early 15th century. Lawn games played with balls and sticks were generally enjoyed by the nobility who had the advantage of having huge lawns of which to play such games.
The upper-class could also move their favorite games inside when winter came, but once inside bending over to pick up the balls was so tedious that the games were moved up onto tables the first mention of the indoor game was in 1470 where a list of the household possessions of France's King Louis XIV speaks of billiard balls and a billiard table. While bankrupting France during the building of Versailles, the King enjoyed Snookering his friends as well.
The word billiard is derived from the French beetle or ball. The sticks called maces were used to shove the balls around rather like shuffleboard. The game was played with two balls on a six-pocket table and a hoop, not unlike a croquet wicket men were allowed to use the stream eel while women being considered too flighty to be trusted with such a formidable weapon to use the mace. Even Mary Queen of Scots was said to have passed her long hours awaiting her execution playing billiards in her prison cell.
Shakespeare in 1600 mentions billiards in Antony and Cleopatra. By the 1700s the table was dressed with green cloth to remind players of the grassy plains and the great outdoors. Unfortunately, a long period of Snooki craggy pool halls came and went thus this verdant allusion to nature has since escaped us. Pool was also considered by some to be a genteel way to pass the time.
By the mid 18th century, the extra hoops and sticks had disappeared.
In 1823, a French political prisoner Captain François Mingaud invented the leather q-tip. This innovation allowed the player to make the cue ball spinning and have greater accuracy over the game. Being a perfectionist, Mingaud asked for more prison time to further develop his invention and his game. At roughly the same time Jack Carr, an employee of a billiard room in England made a startling discovery. Rubbing the leather tip with chalk seemed to impart magical powers to his cue and to his game.
Billiards then came to America, George Washington was said to be a fan of the game. He probably crossed Delaware on occasions to attend the billiard game. President John Quincy Adams who's also a pool enthusiast. In fact, his request for a billiard table for the White House created loud criticism from others on Capitol Hill. The moaning, the incredible extravagance of such a lowly past time.
The great French General Napoleon Bonaparte was also a pool fan. He played a game or two during his exile in St. Helena where he probably tried to hustle his guards the way he hustled most of Europe.
Small innovations appeared throughout the 1800s such as the two-piece cue in 1829 and the slate table bed in 1835.
The modern billiard table was developed shortly after Goodyear first vulcanized rubber in 1839 and the invention of the celluloid billiard ball came in 1868. Revolutionizing the billiards industry.
The early drawback to the new forms was that they had a tendency to explode on impact. Even the game of pool has its ambassador. Enter Irish Emigres Michael Phelan. In 1859 he won a prize match with a purse of $15,000 an astronomical amount for the time. With his money, he established a table manufacturing company that exists to this day, the Brunswick Corporation.
By the turn of the century, billiards competitions were international affairs. Drawing established celebrities from around the globe. Mark Twain used to frequent these competitions and was an avid pool player himself.
The champion Ralph Greenleaf thought it would be a hoot to shoot a game of 8-ball from the air.
Hollywood movies stars were also pool aficionados, bot on and off the screen. WC Fields hustle pulled in his vaudeville days and the Three Stooges were found sticking around a pool table occasionally as well.
By the time of the Great Depression, polite society began to lose interest. Pool was considered a lower-class pastime.
Then in the 1960s pool experienced a revival with the movie "The Hustler". Paul Newman played the "Fast" Eddie Felson, a cocky young player and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, the master.
1986 sequel "The color of money" with Tom Cruise and Paul Newman gave the game another boost in popularity.
Today pool is considered a professional sport as well as a good way to pass the time with friends. Some of the best-known figures of the sport come to us through their championship and commercial exposure.
Rudolph Wander, better known as Minnesota Fats had a popular TV show called celebrity billiards in which other greats showed up and showed off.
Willie Mosconi, a Hall of Fame member began to dominate the game in 1941 and for 15 years thereafter defended his crown.
Machine gun Lou Butera is best known for his rapid-fire style of play. In 1973, he ran 150 balls in just under 21 minutes that same year he won his first World Championship.
Women have a place in the Hall of Fame as well. This is a good article. Follow the link for more information. Jean Balukas has started competing when she was seven years old.
Former Swedish model Ewa Laurance "formerly known as Ewa Mataya" won the US Open title in 1988 and Loree Jon Hasson "formerly LoreeJon Jones or LoreeJon Ogonowski", began as an 11year-old and stay on top ever since.
Here are some videos of the best billiard competition of the 20th century.
The world of billiards is open to all. See if you can become one of the greats, either in front of your computer or in real life on your favorite table.