History of Table Tennis

Published: 14th March 2012
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History of Table TennisThe exact origin of table tennis is unknown. It began sometime in the 1890’s as a parlor game and swept the country as a craze which soon died down.

It became popular again in the 1920’s, and ping pong clubs were formed all over the world. The original name, Ping Pong, was a copyrighted trademark of Parker Brothers. Therefore, the name was changed to table tennis. The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was formed in 1926.

As a parlor game, the sport was often played with cork balls and vellum racquets. (A vellum racquet had a type of rubber stretched on a twisted stick.) In the 1920’s, wooden racquets covered with rubber “pips” were first used. These were the first hard rubber racquets, and they were the most popular type of racquet used until the 1950’s.

During that time span, two playing styles dominated - hitters and choppers. Hitters basically hit everything, while choppers would back up ten or even twenty feet, returning everything with backspin. A player’s attack with hard rubber was severely limited and so more and more choppers dominated. This became a problem whenever two of them met since both would often just push the ball back and forth for hours, waiting for the other to attack and make an error. One match at the World Championships lasted over 12 hours. This was stopped by the advent of the expedite rule. See Table Tennis Rules - enclosed Laws of Table Tennis for additional information on expedite.

In 1952, a relatively unknown Japanese player showed up at the World Championships with a strange new type of racquet. It was a wooden blade covered by a thick sheet of sponge. Using this racquet, he easily won the tournament, and table tennis has never been the same since.

Over the next ten years, nearly all top players switched to sponge coverings. Two types were developed, inverted and pips out. The inverted type enabled players to put far more spin on the ball. Both types made attacking and counter-attacking easier. The U. S., which was a table tennis power up until that time, was slow to make the change.

In the early 1960’s, players began to perfect sponge play. First they developed the loop shot and soon looping became the most popular style. Spin serves were developed, as was the lob. Today, players from Sweden, France, China, and Korea dominate international competition.

In the development of Table Tennis the following are significant milestones:

1880s Adaptation of lawn tennis to the dining table with improvised equipment.

1890s Several patents registered in England, for example, Ping Pong and Whiff-Waff were sold with simple rules.

1900 Development of celluloid balls to replace rubber and cork ones.

1901 Table Tennis Association and rival Ping-Pong Associations formed in England, and the first books on the game were published.

1926 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) initiated in Berlin. First World Championships held in London. The Constitution and Laws of the game adopted at the First ITTF Congress, also held in London. The English Table Tennis Association inaugurated and constituted.

1929 Fred Perry (England) became World Champion.

1935 The 9th Congress agreed to delete from the ITTF Constitution all references to the words “amateur” and “professional” and to substitute “player”.

1937 To encourage attacking play:
the net was lowered from 6.75in to 6in (17.2cm to 15.24cm)
a time limit of twenty minutes for each game was imposed
finger spin was prohibited

1949/51 Johnny Leach (England) became World Champion and was later awarded an MBE.

1950s The emergence of sponge sandwich bats.

1953 England won the Swaythling Cup (World Men’s Team Championship).

1957 European Table Tennis Union inaugurated in Stockholm, Sweden.

1958 The first European Championships held in Budapest, Hungary.

1961 Expedite system adopted by ITTF.

1967 The European League competition inaugurated.

1970s The emergence of the combination bat, i.e. anti-loop, and long pimples.

1971 Western teams invited to tour China for the first time, and the concept of “Ping Pong” diplomacy came into being.

1972 Period of experimentation with yellow balls.

1976 Permanent secretariat of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) set up in St Leonards-on-Sea, England.

1977 The 34th World Championships held in Birmingham. The ITTF received formal declaration of its recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

1978 Jill Hammersley awarded an MBE.

1979 First European Championships for paraplegics (wheelchair players) held in Stoke Mandeville, England.

1980 John Hilton (England) became European Champion.

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