Modern history of American billiards ... 1960 - 2005
For generations, America’s interest in the game of billiards (all cue sports) has clearly been a dichotomy. Aside from limited trends and surges of popularity brought about by others outside of the billiard industry (primarily motion picture studios) the public side of the game has never been able to fully recover from its national collapse after its near fatal heart attack that occurred in the 1950s. Of the long list of various reasons leading to the perpetuating failure to produce and maintain an upscale public side of the game itself, nothing has been more damaging to billiards growth and integrity than the very nature of its own business operational design. Specifically, billiards fails to encourage and develop new and younger recruits due primarily to lack of adequate upscale public facilities and dedicated interest on behalf of what appears to be industry concern and or ability (which I will explain later).
Billiards success, longevity and its more stylish existence have most always been the result of its private sector and not public facilities. Public facilities are best identified as servicing billiards quantities not its qualities. In contrast to society’s misconception, the game of billiards itself originally emerged from various forms of table games introduced and enjoyed by an upper class division of society. In foreign cultures this fact is best displayed in French artist, Louis-Leopold Boilly’s 1807 painting, “The Billiard Party.”; A detailed painting of an elegant 18th century family billiard party hosted in the grandeur of the artist's country estate (a reproduction on display in Bonnie’s dining room).
In American culture, examples of this fact can also be traced back to the 1800s and seen within the homes and stylish billiard room decors of thousands of the wealthiest families in the land. As our nation grew, so did the demand for billiards in the homes of millions of middle-class Americans whose financial status was becoming as diverse as their reasons for bringing billiard tables into their homes. Today, its the upscale private side of billiards, as even reflected in the current annual sales of billiard tables themselves, that continues to display man's timeless attraction to the games never diminishing challenges.
Historically, the game first began loosing its appeal as an upscale social activity when on the streets of Paris in 1760 it first became licensed for "public use" by the provost of guilds. Along with reading rooms, cafes and taverns, billiards became gendered and considered social entertainment for men as opposed to both genders.
In America and by the 20th century, not long after Charles Lindbergh's first transatlantic flight in 1927, the professional male side of pocket billiards began a revolt against the 19th century's mother of American billiards, the National Billiard Association of America (NBAA). Today, in retrospect, even after humankind's extraterrestrial flights to the heavens and visits to the moon, the professional male pool players of America have yet agreed on how to successfully launch even their first balloon.
Moving on to service a seemingly more appreciative, cooperative and promising interests to benefit society's billiard hobbyists, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the 1948 Billiard Congress of America (BCA) began successfully promoting amateur competition. As a trade-off for the professional side of billiards for a more relaxed form of social competition, by servicing amateur team activities and reducing table sizes some 40 percent the BCA has developed perhaps the largest and most enduring amateur billiard activities in the recorded history of American billiards.
After lacking their much-needed professional support for more than two-centuries, in 1976 the women of the world came together to form an organization known as the Women's Professional Billiard Association (WPBA). The women of the WPBA, equipped only with billiard cues and driven by their virtues of pride and dedication gave birth to a new and stylish side of billiards. For the past 25 years, like mothers nurturing their children, they've crusaded across the land promoting a more prominent form of professional American billiards.
Aside from the efforts of America’s WPBA, USBA and the stylish longevity of Europe’s BWA/UMB carom billiards organizations, with only a handful of others, the public side of billiards has done little to promote a distinguished professional side of the game itself. The games principle roll to the public side of society is that of a marketing ploy or prop, used to encourage sales of unrelated by-products outside of the industry itself, primarily the sales of alcohol and tobacco. All of which for generations has been to a large extent the reason for billiards unstable and struggling existence in the first place. Today’s public side of billiards is typically supported by a tavern clientele and more stylish varieties of sports bars, while the traditional pool hall, that did little to boost the qualities of the game itself, are fast becoming a vestige of Americana. By the very nature of its business design and sale of alcohol and its related products, this current trend, while promoting a healthy form of social activity, offers little or nothing to recruit new and younger players, as did yesterdays pool halls for similar counterproductive reasons.
There is one word that can honestly be spoken (and supported by results) for billiards upscale public presentation and preservation, or more precisely, the lack of it ... its “consistency.”; Of every other table game offering such positive diversity, in the infinite recorded history of humankind, there has never been one with a history as long and enduring that has “consistently,”; eked out such an existence of national mediocrity. And provided so little for the children of the world, as the public side of billiards.
Tracing the evolution of other games and their various forms of profoundly wholesome competition, history continually proves that champions in most all-major sports begin training their hopefuls as children. Thus, by their late teens are ready to emerge into their final grooming and preparation for professional competition. In complete contrast, the public side of American billiards provides children little or nothing of educational value and further complicates any hope for a child to even begin learning the game when without a legal guardian shutting them out of public facilities. A legal action imposed primarily due to repeatedly proven counterproductive practices of these very facilities and all too often, by the actions of those professing purity as concerned promoters of the game itself. To boost their own self-serving image and popularity, a variety of both past and present organizations and assorted public facilities boasting claims of responsibility to billiards future, have unsuccessfully proclaimed acts of betterment in this direction for more than the passed 50 years.
If the public side of billiards is ever going to establish itself as little more than a tavern or pool hall gaming pastime, the leaders of this billiard industry have to begin doing something unlike they’ve ever successfully done in the past. Think and act with determination beyond the limits of yesterdays ideas and failed concepts and, step into an arena of genuine professionalism when through the eyes of society, moving on to produce an industry of character ... not characters.
Members of the Illinois Billard Club that competed in the IBC's 25th Anniversary "World Series of American Billards"