How Was Billiards Invented, and How Did It Become Popular?

Pool and Billiards in Phoenix, AZ

Billiards was originally a lawn game played outdoors in the grass, similar to croquet. It was played this way until some time in the 1400s when northern Europeans, probably the French, moved the game play to the tabletop. King Louis XI of France (1423-1483) is the first person in history definitively known to have had an indoor billiards table.

Originally, the tabletop game featured croquet-like hoops for the balls to go through above each pocket. Rather than striking the balls with a cue, players would shove the balls using a stick called a mace. Because the mace was difficult to maneuver, players would sometimes turn it backwards and move the balls with the tail or “queue” in French. The cue stick came along in the 17th century, named after the mace’s queue.

How Did Billiards Become Popular?

Judging by Louis XI’s billiards table from the mid-1400s, it seems that the game became popular within its first 100 years. When Shakespeare wrote “Antony and Cleopatra” in 1606, he made reference to the game. No one is sure when the first billiards game was imported to the United States, but George Washington (1732-1799) was known to play billiards. The game’s popularity in America waxed and waned over the years.

The 1961 American film “The Hustler,” starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, helped re-ignite public interest in billiards. The movie features a cameo by real-life professional pool player, Willie Moscone. Moscone’s world record of sinking 526 balls without missing a shot stood from 1954 until 2019.

Billiards as a professional sporting event has been around at least since the 1890s. The World Pool-Billiard Association formed in 1987 as the world’s governing body on the pool variety of billiards played on a table with pockets. The World Games, governed by the International Olympic Committee but including sports not played in the Olympics, has included a billiards category since 2001.

Visit the Experts at Billiard Gallery in Phoenix, AZ

Billiards-loving residents of Phoenix can count on Billiard Gallery for all their sporting needs, from fine billiards furniture to custom moving services. We not only sell new and used billiards tables but can also help you with any repair, including re-felting a pool table. Contact us today for all your billiards needs.