Ping pong is a fun game that is usually associated with college dorms, musty recreational rooms and run-down basements. However, what you might not know is that ping pong actually has quite a long and interesting history, a following that stretches the world over and is popular among young and old players around the world.
To help you learn about—and become a little more familiar with—this this fascinating and well-loved game, below we have listed a series of fun facts about ping pong that will peek your interests and help you understand the game better than you ever thought possible.
- Ping Pong Is an English-Born Game
- How Ping Pong Got Its Patent
- Table Tennis and Ping Pong Are Essentially the Same Game
- Ping Pong World Championships Are Held Biannually
- The “Yin-Yan” Bat
- Ping Pong Is Actually an Olympic Sport
- Ping Pong is Liked Worldwide but Loved in Asia
- Ping Pong and Diplomacy
- The Best Ping Pong Player Ever Was Actually from Sweden
- The Inventor of the Foldable Ping Pong Table
Ping Pong Is an English-Born Game
Although many people would probably guess that ping pong started in the Far East, mostly because of the current Olympic dominance of the sport by countries in that region, most historians now agree that the game most likely got its start way back in Victorian England.
During this time period, the game of lawn tennis was becoming hugely popular, and some of the noblemen wanted to figure out a way to play indoors when the weather outside was too cold to play—or after the sun went down.
Because of this, a court that resembled that of lawn tennis was made out of wood and the game became a parlor favorite among the wealthy of that time. Interestingly, the backs of cigar boxes were substituted for paddles at that time, and stacks of book were laid to simulate a net.
There are some historians that are not in line with this theory, although they still believe the game was attributed in some way to jolly old England. These historians believe the game was invented by British military officers while stationed in places like India or South Africa, officers that eventually brought the game back with them and introduced it to the masses.
How Ping Pong Got Its Patent
There were a couple of people who attempted to patent or trademark the game of ping pong. According to the International Table Tennis Foundation, the first of these was a man named James Devonshire from England, who attempted to place a patent on the game he named “table tennis” back in 1885.
However, records show that by 1887 he had abandoned his patent efforts. Another Englishman did succeed with a patent, however. According to records, David Foster is the person who patented the earliest surviving table tennis set in the year 1890.
In 1901, a man named John Jacques, who was the owner and founder of the English sports manufacturing company known as John Jacques and Son Ltd., was credited with officially commercializing ping pong.
Through his company, Jacques laid out the official rules for “his” game, which at the time he called “Gossima,” and began selling equipment to the general public. While this was going on, other competitors began launching their own versions of the game—less successful versions with names like “Whiff-Whaff” and “Flim-Flam.”
Unfortunately, Gossima never took off as a game, so Jacques rebranded it as “Ping Pong.” The name was meant to mimic the sound the balls made when they bounced. According to lore, it was Jacques who also introduced the now-omnipresent celluloid Ping Pong ball, which replaced the original cork and rubber balls that were used—balls that were much heavier and harder to hit.
This new ball became the “ball of choice” among players, making the game much easier to play. The new ball was also responsible for the surge in popularity with regard to the game, and people everywhere started to get a taste of ping pong.
Table Tennis and Ping Pong Are Essentially the Same Game
Over time, Jacques of Jacques and Son Ltd. gave up the game rights to ping pong to an English game distributor called Hamley Brothers and the American board game company Parker Brothers. Since these two companies now owned the game known as “ping pong,” others who attempted to emulate it had to legally call it by another name.
There were a number of countries around the world, and many players, who stuck with the name “table tennis,” a name by which the game was originally called when first patented. Because of this, separate “Ping Pong” and “Table Tennis” Associations were formed, and sometimes the games even had different rules listed. (The Table Tennis Association and Ping-Pong Association, which were both formed in England in 1901, eventually merged into one group before dissolving in 1904).
Today, by whatever you name you happen to call it, Ping Pong is regulated by the International Table Tennis Federation.
Ping Pong World Championships Are Held Biannually
In 1957, the World Championships of ping pong (or table tennis), which were previously held once a year at rotating sites, was changed to a biennial event (once every two years), due to problems and the logistics of hosting an event of such size, and the difficulty in finding suitable venues.
The “Yin-Yan” Bat
In the early 1960’s, Xhang Xi Lin of China uses a “Yin-Yan” bat in the World Championships. This paddle had normal rubber on one side, and long pimples on the other. This became the first recorded instance of successful combination bat play.
Ping Pong Is Actually an Olympic Sport
Ping Pong was introduced as an Olympic sport before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul Korea. There are several event categories in the Olympic sport of ping pong, including men’s and women’s singles, doubles and even mixed doubles.
Ping Pong is Liked Worldwide but Loved in Asia
In the early 1900s, ping pong became enormously popular across Central Europe. This popularity faded out rather quickly, however, as it was never taken as a serious sport. In the 1920s, though, the game of ping pong underwent a revival in England, with thousands of ping pong sets being sold during this period.
In 1926, the International Table Tennis Federation was formed in Berlin, Germany. It was also during this year that the first World Table Tennis Championships were held in London, England. It was at this tournament that Maria Mednyanszky of Hungary would win the first of five straight championships in the Women’s Singles event.
After those championships in 1926, official ping pong organizations began sprouting up worldwide and the game was ever-growing in popularity.
Most historians believe that ping pong was introduced to Asia by British Army officers who would play the game in their spare time. However, it wasn’t until the early 1950s when ping pong really became a phenomenon in the Far East. By the time the 1952 Ping-Pong Championships rolled around, which were held in Mumbai in India, Asian players were dominating the scene.
That year, Japan won four gold medals. It was during that tournament that Hiroji Satoh of Japan became notorious for his use of a wooden racket that was covered in thick foam sponge rubber, which produced much more speed and spin than conventional pimpled rubber rackets.
He won the 1952 World Championships over Jozsef Koczian of Hungary, and began a period of Asian male domination in the sport which would last until Sweden rose to supremacy from 1989 into the early 1990’s. Soon after the 1952 Championships, Mao Zedong declared table tennis as China’s national sport—likely because the International Table Tennis Federation recognized the Communist Chinese government in Beijing.
This move would lead China to invest a lot of money in ping pong and Chinese players, and those efforts would pay off. In 1959, China won its first World Ping-Pong Championship. Currently, the nation of China holds more Olympic gold medals in the sport than any other nation.
Ping Pong and Diplomacy
In the early 1970s, the United States relationship with China could only be described as icy. However, in a surprising 1971 move, officials from China actually invited the American world champion table tennis team to visit the People’s Republic of China.
The American delegation of athletes accepted, playing a series of friendly matches against the Chinese team. These athletes were the first Americans to visit China in an official capacity since the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949.
This action signified a major shift in international alliances, and led to President Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972.
The Best Ping Pong Player Ever Was Actually from Sweden
Here is what you now know: the game of ping pong was most likely invented by the British, and the nation of China has been the most dominant ping pong nation on earth. But here is a twist: the best player ever to play the game of ping pong is probably a Swedish man named Jan-Ove Waldner.
Waldner is often recognized as history’s best ping-pong player. Thanks to his multiple Olympic and World championships medals, he’s earned the nickname the “Mozart of table tennis.” Waldner also helped Sweden win both the 1989 and 1991 World team event, which put Sweden on the top of the table tennis world.
The Inventor of the Foldable Ping Pong Table
The inventor of the foldable ping pong table (and the bagel machine) was Daniel Thomas, who sadly passed away in September of 2015.
Although it is one of his lesser-known inventions, the foldable ping pong table with wheels has enabled many recreation rooms around the country to offer ping pong to its guests, especially now that the table can be neatly folded away at the conclusion of the game.