Today in History – July 29

Don Carter, one of the greatest professional bowlers of all time, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 29, 1926. A childhood job as a pinsetter gave Carter his start. Practicing on a lane that he constructed in his basement, Carter perfected his game and joined the St. Louis Budweiser team. In 1953, he received the first of six “bowler of the year” designations. He dominated the sport during its heyday.

Bowling alley, Clinton, Indiana. Arthur Rothstein, photographer, Feb. 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division.

Carter set several bowling “firsts.” In 1961 he was the first person to win bowling’s Grand Slam: the All-Star tournament, the World’s Invitational, the Professional Bowlers’ Association (PBA) National Championship, and the American Bowling Congress (ABC) Masters tournament. He also was the first athlete to sign a $1 million promotional contract, the first bowler to have a PBA tournament named for him, and the first bowler selected for the Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame.

Since ancient times, people have rolled balls at pins for sport. An Egyptian child’s tomb dating to 3,200 B.C. contained bowling balls and pins. Various forms of bowling have been popular in America since colonial times—English, Dutch, and German settlers all imported their own variations of bowling. By the 1870s, competitive bowling between clubs was common in big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee. Tenpin bowling dominated the sport, but without official rules and equipment standards the game flourished only at the local level.

American Bowling Congress, Milwaukee, Wis.. Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., distributor; Chicago: Geo. R. Lawrence Co., c1905. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division.

Bowling organizations were formed in the United States beginning in the late nineteenth century. On September 9, 1895, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was organized in New York City. The ABC held its first national tournament in 1901. The Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC), first established in 1916 as the Ladies National Bowling Association, later named the Women’s National Bowling Association, began championship games the following year. The United States Bowling Congress was founded in 2005 with the merger of the American Bowling Congress, Women’s International Bowling Congress, Young American Bowling Alliance, and USA Bowling.

American Bowling Congress, Bowling Tournament, Milwaukee, Wis. Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, distributor; Chicago: Geo. R. Lawrence Co., c1905. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Important technological advances in the sport included the introduction of the hard rubber ball in 1905 and the development of automatic pinspotting machines in the early 1950s. A sign of growing prosperity and leisure in postwar America, the game became increasingly popular in the 1950s and 1960s—in bowling alleys and on television.

Today, an estimated 70 million people bowl at least once a year in the United States. Many people bowl in leagues composed of eight to twelve teams, but leagues can be as large as forty teams depending on the size of the local alley. Although tenpin games continue to prevail, bowlers loyal to duckpins are active through the National Duckpin Bowling Congress, founded in 1927.

Don Carter and others founded the Professional Bowlers Association of America in 1958; Carter served as the first president. In the early twenty-first century the PBA had nearly 4,300 members representing thirteen countries. Annual tournament prize money is now more than $9 million; in the 1970s prize money was approximately $1 million.