Shuffleboard History: Learn All About This Game’s Origins

Learn about the origin of table shuffleboard, its evolution, and modern development from this informative article. Keep reading!
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Last updatedLast updated: August 16, 2021
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Shuffleboard history is an interesting topic for experienced players and those new to the game. Who invented Shuffleboard in the first place? We don’t really know the answer to that question and it seems to have evolved naturally over a long period of time. Before the introductions of leagues and dedicated tables the game was restricted to playing in bars. In fact, when the game began the only requirement for play were some coins and a flat tabletop. Over the years the game became more complex, but the core remains the same and Shuffleboard is an activity that anyone can participate in. This is equally true at home or on a dedicated Shuffleboard table at your local Legion hall.

Shuffleboard origin

Shuffleboard History: Learn All About This Game's Origins

Table Shuffleboard history begins in 15th Century England and it was a simple coin sliding game. The “standard” Shuffleboard puck was a groat coin and later silver pennies became popular. The game was known as shove or shovel penny and it was a favorite pastime for both young and older people. It was played in public houses and country estates throughout Staffordshire, Wiltshire and Winchester.

With our strong early English connections, it should come as no surprise that Shuffleboard migrated to our shores. The pastime was popular among colonists and English soldiers alike. The Arther Miller play “The Crucible” written in 1692 details a Shuffleboard tournament at the Bridget Bishop’s Tavern in Salem, Mass during the witch trials. This is a solid written record of a long history of Shuffleboard in America.

Over the years, the popularity of Shuffleboard spread and it became a source of controversy in 1848. In the case of “The State vs. John Bishop” held in New Hanover, Penn, a thorny question was posed “Is Shuffleboard a game of chance or a game of skill?”. The Judge ruled as follows “Though the defendant kept a public gaming table, as charged, and though diverse persons played thereat and bet spirituous liquors on the game, the game was not a game of chance, but was altogether a game of skill.” and so the case ended!

The game became more mainstream when cabinetmakers, including: Duncan Phyfe, Hepplewhite and others turned their attention to crafting the best Shuffleboard table. Some of the finest Shuffleboard tables included incrinate cabinetry and they could be found in many wealthy homes in New York City and further afield.

Evolution of shuffleboard

Shuffleboard History: Learn All About This Game's Origins

The history of the American Shuffleboard company goes hand in hand with the evolution of the game. In 1897, the game was so popular that it had as many column inches in newspapers as Baseball and Prize Fighting. There were high profile tournaments with colorful characters playing the game, including: Alex Scott, “Big Ed” Morris, George Lavender and others. These players have legions of dedicated fans and you can get a sense of the excitement when you see a Shuffleboard history poster.

By 1904, the game had spread across the country and Gentleman Jim Corbett was an enthusiastic player. He asked a longer tavern owner to install a Shuffleboard table at his establishment in Alameda, California. According to the son of the tavern owner, “Doc” Croll had the first Shuffleboard in the area.

Shortly after, the prohibition act effectively shutdown the game of Shuffleboard. Most Speakeasy’s didn’t have a table. They were not interested in games of skill and space was at a premium. This 8-10 year period marked the beginning of the decline of Shuffleboard as a pastime in the United States. After the repeal of the Prohibition Act, some players did surface but this was restricted to the East Coast. The tavern industry had changed, the small back rooms had all but disappeared and the Great Depression exacerbated the situation. When people are struggling to eat, they don’t have much time for fun pastimes. Some areas were set aside for Shuffleboard but a good table could cost as much as $149 which was beyond the reach of many people. Some promoters took the plunge and set up matches and tournaments to encourage Shuffleboard play. Eventually leagues formed and Shuffleboard began to regain some of its lost popularity.

The Shuffleboard rules had developed a great deal by the time of World War II and the “Swinging Forties” period. Men that were routed through New York to Europe would play Shuffleboard and they brought the game back with them when they returned home after the war. During the postwar period, over 100 companies were involved in the manufacture of Shuffleboards. In fact, some of those companies even went into business to meet the new demand for tables

At this time, the Shuffleboard size shrank from 32 feet down to 28 and then 22 feet long. The weight of the tables dropped because heavier brass fittings were exchanged for lighter and stronger stainless steel. At the Shuffleboard origins, it was common to use sand to speed up the boards, followed by fine cornmeal and in the modern era, silicone based waxes. This ensured that the Shuffleboard pucks would move in a uniform way which is important when you want to run regional tournaments. The first national Shuffleboard tournament was held in Springfield, Ill, back in 1948 and 574 taverns sent 10 man teams to participate.

The new found popularity of Shuffleboard was taken up by Hollywood, and it was common to see actors, bandleaders, pin-up girls and other celebrities playing in the media. Some stars photographed with Shuffleboards, included: Alan Ladd, Merv Griffin, Betty Grable, Harry James and others. Many stars have their own Shuffleboards set up in their homes much like their counterparts in the past.

By the 50s, the Shuffleboard phenomenon had reached new heights and nationwide tournaments were sponsored by manufacturers. The largest tournament ever held had 576 participating teams from all over the nation in attendance.
The competition between players and manufacturers was fierce, but organization was badly needed. The game declined in popularity again during the 60s and 70s and many players feared it would never make a comeback. But, a revival in the mid-80s followed by some tournaments in the 90s brought some new players into the game.

Shuffleboard at modern times

Shuffleboard History: Learn All About This Game's Origins

The mini revival that occurred in Shuffleboard at the end of the 20th Century has provided sufficient impetus for the game to move forward. Since 1979, there have been regular and fairly high profile tournaments all over the world. Far-flung locales, such as: England (the birthplace of Shuffleboard), Brazil, Japan, Australia, Canada and of course, the United States have been successful events. This was mostly possible thanks to the badly needed formation of the International Shuffleboard Association or ISA back in 1979. The organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida helped to rejuvenate Shuffleboard and attract new players.

During the 90s, the Table Shuffleboard Association or TSA helped to keep the game alive with a Hall of Fame for past and present players. Remember, this is a game that has been around for centuries and fans want to keep the memories of famous players alive for a new generation.

At the heart of Shuffleboard is the fun that you can have at any age and it’s an exciting game to play with family, friends and even strangers. You can play Shuffleboard at your home game room, if you’re lucky enough to have space. Having an extra-large Shuffleboard in your home is certainly a thrill when you have visitors. You can also find Shuffleboards at many bars now and it’s not just a nostalgia related activity for players. Shuffleboard has been consistently played for more than 500 years at this point. So, it’s fair to say that it is a fun game that has stood the test of time. Despite many setbacks over the years, it looks like Shuffleboard will be around for maybe another 500 years!

Although it is true that the key to the revival of Shuffleboard in the last few decades is down to better communication and organization, that isn’t the full story. Many dedicated Shuffleboard players and tournament organizers believe that the most important aspect has been the realization that new and younger players are an important element. After all, without new blood any sport or pastime is doomed to failure and it’s not likely to extend much further than the lifespan of the people playing now. All over the United States, you can find established players that make it a priority to help new players. This extends to helping them find other Shuffleboard players, board locations, techniques to improve play and much more. Getting new players excited about Shuffleboard to breathe new life into tournaments and build enthusiasm for league play is vital. At this stage, Shuffleboard is set to continue its growth for future generations to enjoy the game.

Another major accomplishment in modern Shuffleboard was the aforementioned establishment of the National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame back in 1995. This is reserved for players that have been honored by their home states for an induction into this National Hall of Fame. At this time, there are twelve people that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, they are: ( from California) PeeWee Ramos, Bob Miles, Billy Chiles; (from Oklahoma) Bill Melton, Glen Davidson; (from New Jersey) Mickey Mickens, Sol Lipkin; (from Texas) Earl Kelly; (from Nebraska) Denny Busch; (from the Pacific Northwest) Jim Foran.and others that are currently progressing through this national nomination process. The National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame (NSHF) has a stated goal to recognize the excellence of outstanding players of the game. They offer a “home” to preserve the legacy of the game to keep it alive for present and future players alike.

Final thoughts

As you can see, Shuffleboard history is a long and illustrious story that spans half a millennium. The game has withstood a number of wars, the birth of our nation and even prohibition and survived. Even in this modern age of computer games and other technology based entertainment, it has a great deal to offer. Shuffleboard can bring people of all ages together to have fun and socialize. But, there is also a competitive element and tournaments can be a lot of fun for players and spectators alike. Having a Shuffleboard at home is a great way to have fun and it’s a good conversation starter when you have visitors!

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