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History of Cornhole – A Disputed Origin For This Tailgating Favorite

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Millions of people across this great country are in love with the game of Cornhole, but the history of the game is very elusive and not quite clear, with several different theories on how the game actually got its start.

In this article we will share some of the varied theories on the history of Cornhole in some detail, and ultimately let you make up your mind regarding the correct record and origins of the game you know and love today.

First, however, we will define the game of Cornhole, the equipment and how it is played.

What Is Cornhole?

The game of Cornhole is a recreational and sometimes competitive game that is also known as “bean bags” “sack toss,” and sometimes just “bags” depending on the region in which it is played. In this game, players take turns throwing corn-filled or bean-filled bags at a raised plywood-like platform with a hole in the far end.

In the official rules of Cornhole, a bag that goes in the hole scores 3 points, while one on the platform scores 1 point. Play continues, back and forth, until a team or player reaches or exceeds the score of 21.

The American Cornhole Association describes and defines the equipment in Cornhole as follows:

  1. Each board shall be a 47.5 to 48 inch by 23.5 to 24 inch rectangle made of plywood that is at least a 0.5 inch thick.
  2. The hole in the board shall be 6 inches in diameter. Its center shall be 9 inches from the top and 12 inches from each side of the board edges.
  3. The front of the board shall be 3-4 inches from bottom to top.
  4. The back of the board shall be approximately 12 inches from ground to the highest point of the deck.
  5. The board finish shall be sanded to a very smooth texture, and there shall not be any blemishes in the wood surface that might disrupt or distort play.
  6. The board can be painted with a semi-gloss exterior latex paint resulting in a surface that allows bags to slide, but is not so slippery that it allows the bags to slide back down the board.
  7. The Cornhole bags shall be made from two fabric squares 6.25 square inches with a 0.25 inch stitched seam on all four sides. Bags should be made from durable fabric. Each bag shall be filled with approximately 2 cups of feed corn and finished bags should be roughly 6 square inches and weigh 14-16 ounces. ACA will allow the use of plastic pellets (All Weather Cornhole Bags) in lieu of feed corn. ACA offers both Corn-Filled and All Weather Cornhole bags.

How The Game Of Cornhole Started

Below you will find the various theories on the history of Cornhole, listed in no particular order.

Ancient Beginnings?

People have been inventing games since the beginning of time. For example, the first form of basketball is said to be traced back to a game played by Meso-American tribes almost 3,000 years ago. But what about Cornhole?

Well, for that you might look to the game of Boccia, which was first invented by the ancient Greeks. In that game, players through large stones at a stone target to accumulate points, which, if you think about it, is not that much different than the modern Cornhole game we love today.

Of course, there is no real proof that Cornhole got its start before writing and the alphabet were ever established, but if you look back far and carefully enough you can probably make the same case for almost any game.

The Quoits Theory

To read about the game that’s completely described in Heyliger de Windt’s 1883 patent paperwork for a game he called “Parlor Quoits,” one might say that his game displays most of the features found in the modern game of Cornhole.

The main difference between the two games is that Heyliger de Windt’s Parlor Quoits featured a square hole in the playing surface rather than a round one.

To give you some background, the outdoor game of Quoits is very similar to horseshoes. Quoits is played by throwing steel discs at a metal spike that is staked into the ground. When Heyliger de Windt patented his version of Parlor Quoits he was trying to bring this outdoor game into an indoor environment.

Interestingly, Windt’s patent actually followed several earlier versions of Parlor Quoits patents—patents that also attempted to recreate the game of Quoits in an indoor setting.

However, Heyliger de Windt’s version of the game was the first to utilize bean bags and a slanted board, just like modern Cornhole, as well as a hole for the target.

Following his successful patent for Parlor Quoits, Heyliger de Windt sold the rights to his game to a toy manufacturer in Massachusetts. That manufacturer marketed a version of the game—a game which he called “Faba Baga.”

However, unlike the modern version of Cornhole that we know today, in which play consists of one hole and a standard size for all the bean bags, Faba Baga, or more specifically, the playing board for Faba Baga, had two holes of different diameters, each worth different point values.

Also Faba Baga provided each player with one extra large size bean bag per round—a bag that scored double the point value if it went through one of the holes on the board.

The Popular Mechanics Version

Some have said that the modern game of Cornhole may have gotten its start in Chicago thanks to a 1974 article that came out in the publication Popular Mechanics that explained how to make the boards for this game.

In Chicago and into the Northwest region of Indiana, where the game is known as “bean bags” or just “bags,” the game of Cornhole spread rapidly in the late 1970s and early 1980s after that article appeared.

The Cincinnati Kid

If there is a center to the Cornhole universe today, where kernel-filled bags are thrown at slotted and slanted pieces of plywood, it would have to be the city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Not only is Cincinnati the home of the American Cornhole Association, it is also the town in which “Cornhole the Movie” was filmed.

Even today, Cornhole is amazingly popular in Cincinnati, and if you ever go to a bachelor party, family reunion or backyard got-together in the city, you can almost be assured that someone will break out the game for a good toss.

The Corn Maze

When looking for the origins of the game Cornhole, some would say that you have to go to where the corn is. It’s true. There are versions of Cornhole history that say the game was invented by Midwest farmers who were looking for a way to pass the time.

And while this may or may not be true, you have to admit that a corn farm is a great place to start the game. After all, you have everything you need: corn—check; cloth sack material—check; scrap wood—check; free time—check, check, check!

Kentucky Fried Cornhole?

The good folks in the state of Kentucky may also have something to say about the history of Cornhole. In fact, they dispute any notion that their dearly loved game of Cornhole had its origins anywhere but in their home state.

It is believed by Kentuckians that an early pioneer by the name of Jebediah McGillicuddy played a version of the game in the foothills of Kentucky, where, by the way, it continues to be very popular today.

As you can see, the Kentucky connection goes a long way to affirm the idea that Cornhole started in the Midwest.

Native Corn

There are many tales that say Cornhole was invented by the Native American tribes that once inhabited the regions of the Midwest and Southwest, particularly in mid-Illinois.

These resourceful tribesmen, with a lot of time on their hands and nothing to do, created a version of the game that used dried animal bladders stuffed with corn.

They then tossed these corn-filled bladders competitively at a rock or stake for points. You never know, some say they invented soccer as well.

The German Connection

One of the well-respected theories regarding the origins of modern Cornhole is that it was actually invented in Germany and brought to America (of course, don’t the German invent everything?)

There are an abundance of farmers across the United States that boast a proud German lineage, and many of these farmers say that Cornhole actually dates back to their motherland.

As the legend goes, a “humble German cabinet maker by the name of Matthias Kuepermann one day noticed young boys tossing rocks into various sized holes in the ground. Being concerned for their safety, he provided them with burlap bags filled with corn and made some wooden boxes with a hole in them at which to throw the corn-filled bags.”

Those same German farmers say that their ancestors brought over games like Cornhole or variations of Cornhole, especially to the farming region surrounding Cincinnati and Illinois.

Now that you know all the theories about the history of Cornhole, which one do you believe?

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