A Brief History of Table Tennis

The inspiration for the writing of this article came from this snapshot of a conversation between these men over lunch:

Did table tennis originate from tennis? - Roger So (Rovo Intern)

Yes, it did. - Ritesh Angural (Rovo Intern)

The sport developed in England sometime in the 19th century when, after one particular but unrecorded dinner, some upper-middle class Victorians decided to turn their dining room tables into miniature versions of the traditional lawn tennis playing field. Various every-day objects were used to construct the sport facilities. A net was believed to be made out of a line of books. Lids from empty cigar boxes were used to make rackets. And what about the first 'table tennis balls'? They were rumoured to be rubber balls or even champagne corks... Necessity is not the mother of all inventions...

There was no standard name for the game in its very early stages. “Whif whaf,” “gossamer,” and “flim flam” were all commonly used to describe it. The words, as can be intuited, were derived from the sound that the ball made when hit back and forth on the table. In 1901 though, a certain English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd registered one of the more popular names, Ping-Pong, as a copyright, which was later sold to some Parker Brothers in the United States. It was only in the 1920s when the name 'table tennis' was coined and commonly used.

The turn of the 20th century was a period of significant developments in table tennis. Players worldwide began using celluloid balls after a certain English gentleman James Gibb discovered them during a trip to the United States in 1901 and showed that they were perfect for Ping-Pong. In 1903, a certain E.C Goode replaced parchment paper and cigar box lids with pimpled rubber on light wooden “blades” as rackets. Interestingly, table tennis play could be rather like tennis play. After the 1936 Prague world championships, where two defensive players took over an hour to contest one point, the net was lowered to make the pace of the game-play faster.

During that same time, table tennis spread to other European countries and to the United States. Countries in Asia like Japan, China and Korea are believed to have catched the sport on from British Army officers who held posts in those places. One sign of a developed sport is the hosting of international competition and the creation of an international body regulating the sport's development. There was an unofficial world championship held in 1901, and the first official world championship was held in London in 1927, by the International Table Tennis Federation (which was founded in Berlin in 1926).

The first ever international table tennis championship

Interestingly although it may seem today that professional table tennis, is dominated by Asian countries like China and Korea, it was not always that way. Table tennis was after all a sport that originated and first took off in Europe. In the 1950s and 1960s, the best players were from Sweden, Hungary and France. In another significant modification of the game, a Japanese player Horoi Satoh in 1952 introduced the foam rubber paddle. The foam rudder paddle made the game faster and spinning the ball started to become a common element in the game from then on. Japanese players dominated the game in the first half of the 1960s, only to be superseded by the Chinese players from the mid-1960s' onwards. Their dominance in the sport was absolute (far more complete than their current position right now) and such dominance lasted till the 1980s. However, from the later years of the 1980s, Swedish and Korean players were able to break this monopoly!

Han-Ove Waldner - one of the greatest table tennis players of all time, from Sweden

#playmore @rovoapp

Rovo is an app that connects you with other sports players nearby. It takes the hassle out of coordinating timings and matching others of the same skill level so you can #playmore!

Get the latest versions of the app here

Rovo - find tennis players nearby on the apple app storeRovo - find tennis players nearby - google play store