A Brief History Of Table Tennis

It may surprise you to know that table tennis has been around for over 140 years. Sometimes, it is also referred to as ping pong.

This game is popular all over the world and is a very competitive sport. This sport is typically associated with Europe, Japan, and China.

A Brief History Of Table Tennis

In this article, we will be giving you a brief history of table tennis, so you get a further insight into this beloved sport.

What Is Table Tennis?

Table Tennis is normally played on a flat table that has been divided into two courts, with a net in the center of the table. The goal of this sport is to hit the small ball.

You want the ball to go over the net and bounce on your opponent’s half of the table. You want to hit the ball in a way that your opponent can’t reach it or can’t return it correctly.

Each player has a small racket, which may also be referred to as bats or paddles. These rackets will be used to hit the small, hollow ball back and forth between the players until there is a winner.

Typically, a match consists of the best of so many odd numbers of games. Each game is won by the player who reaches 11 points first.

Or if both players reach 10 points, then the first player who is two points ahead will win that game.

Service changes every two points until both players reach 10 points. In this case, service is changed after every point until there is a winner.

Origins of Table Tennis

Table tennis is commonly referred to as ping pong in America. This sport was first invented in Victorian England in 1880. Table tennis is an adaptation of another popular game, known as lawn tennis.

Therefore, table tennis was created as a way of continuing to play lawn tennis but inside during the colder winter months.

As a result, this game became popular quite quickly, as it is much more accessible. More people could play table tennis, as they didn’t need a large outside space to play it in. it could easily be played inside.

Thus, as popularity grew, many game companies began marketing table tennis sets that came with all the equipment that you required.

These sets would include the bats, balls, and net that were needed to play this game. However, as so many companies were trying to sell their sets, the game began to go by various different names.

The following are some of the names that table tennis use to go by:

  • Table Tennis
  • Ping Pong
  • Pom Pom
  • Pim Pam
  • Whiff Waff
  • Gossima

In 1901, the names that stuck were ping pong and table tennis. This then led to the Table Tennis Association and the Ping Pong Association being created.

Trademark Controversy With Ping Pong

The British manufacturers J. Jaques & Sons Ltd noticed the popularity of this game. They then trademarked the name Ping Pong worldwide.

As a result, other manufacturers had to refer to the game as table tennis on any of the products they were producing. Otherwise, they would be infringing on the trademark.

Origins of Table Tennis

Then, the British manufacturers J. Jaques & Sons Ltd sold the trademark rights to the US toy manufacturers Parker Brothers.

This then made sure that no one in the US could refer to the game as Ping Pong.

Equipment That Was First Used

Like with any game or sport, the equipment has evolved over time.

Considering this game was created over 140 years ago, the tables and bats we are using today look a lot different from what they were using back then.

Alongside, materials that we use now are much more advanced than what they also had access to back then as well.

Table Tennis Tables

Back when this game was first created, the tables used were much different from what we use now. Back then, table tennis was played on billiard or dining room tables.

Then a net would be set up across the center of the table. Sometimes, it is known that more nets were set up at the sides of the table to catch the ball.

It is believed that in India, the British army made their own tables. Instead of nets, books were used. A row of books would be seen in the middle of the table, and then those playing would have a book each as a racket.

Early Rackets

Through our research, we have discovered that there are many varieties of rackets that were first used. A range of different sizes, shapes, and styles was first used.

The most common rackets were typically a wooden frame that is covered with a vellum canvas. This is actually where ping pong got its name from.

This is because of the sounds the paddles would make the ball hit against them.

In 1900, E.C Goode created the paddle that we are more likely to recognize. Goode used a sheet of rubber on top of a wooden blade.

However, a lot later, bats would use a layer of sponge between the rubber sheet and wooden blade.

Early Balls

There has been a vast range of different balls used for table tennis. Before 1900, you would find balls made out of rubber or cork that were used to play table tennis.

However, these balls weren’t very effective as rubber balls were quite unpredictable in where they may bounce. While with cork balls, you struggle to get enough bounce out of them.

James W. Gibb in 1901 was in the US, and he discovered a celluloid ball that he believed would be the perfect ball for this game.

Eventually, a 38 mm ball, made from celluloid, began the standard ball that everyone would use.

That is, until 2000 when the ball size was increased to 40 mm, but the balls were still made from celluloid.

Table Tennis History

Until 2014, when table tennis balls started being made out of plastic instead of celluloid. The plastic ball changed the way table tennis was played.

During a rally, a plastic ball is known to bounce much higher than a celluloid ball and is much harder for players to produce spin on.

1920-1950’s Table Tennis Era

When table tennis was first invented in the 1880s, it was extremely popular. Then around 1903, table tennis went out of style.

Although, in the 1920s, it began to slowly regain its popularity again. What helped the game to regain its popularity was the standardized rules that were introduced.

After that, the International Federation of Table Tennis was created in Berlin. The founding members of this organization were England, India, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Wales, Denmark, and Czechoslovakia.

Although, by the mid-1990s, over 165 national associations were members of the organization.

Which then led to the first world championships being held in England. The championships were held in England from 1926 until 1939.

1920 to 1950s is referred to as the Classic Hard Bat era. It was named this due to the lack of sponge that was found on the rackets at the time.

During this era, European players were the most dominant in competition wins. With Hungary winning twice and Czechoslovakia winning twice.

However, in 1936 there were some rule changes. These changes were brought in by the International Federation of Table Tennis.

The changes involved in increasing the heights of the net to 6 and ¾ inches. Another rule was to paint the tables.

The changes that were brought in, slowed the games down, which made the game a lot harder for attacking players.

In Prague in 1936, the world championships were being held. Here is where a rally lasted for over two hours. This makes this the longest known rally during a championship game.

1950-1970’s Table Tennis Era

The 1950s were a huge year for table tennis and the bats that were used. The Japanese player, Hiroji Satoh, used a racket that had a layer of foam sponge rubber.

This then resulted in him being able to produce a lot more spin and speed than anyone else. His racket led him to win the 1952 world championships.

During this era, table tennis has grown a lot more popular in Asia. As a result, players from Japan, Korea, and China started to dominate the stage at the championships.

Table Tennis Comes To The Olympics

In the 1970s, table tennis became political. This happened when a friendly exchange between American and Chinese players resulted in a visit to China thanks to President Nixon.

This became known as the Ping Pong Diplomacy. The exchange then opened the doors on the two countries.

Especially after what happened with the Cold War, both countries were on better terms with one another.

1970-2000 Table Tennis Era

During the 1970s, people began to experiment with bicycle tire repair glue as a way of attaching the rubber sheets to wood bats.

This method makes much quicker bats that could achieve better spins on the balls. This method is commonly credited to Hungarian Tibor Klampar and Yugoslavian Dragutin Surbek, for the speed glue method.

Like the previous two decades, China was still dominating the world championships, now in both men’s and women’s categories. However, China’s winning streak was brought to an end in 1989 by Sweden.

Swedish players won the 1989, 1991, and 1993 team events. Alongside that, they also won the 1989 and 1991 men’s world championship titles.

Table Tennis Comes To The Olympics

Table tennis had been growing in popularity over the years and was finally able to retain its popularity.

As a result, it finally became an Olympic sport. It first appeared in the 1988 Korean Olympic Games in Seoul.

Since then, it has appeared in every Olympic Games. It is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.

China and Japan have made a reputation for themselves in recent years.

They continue to have dominance in this sport when it comes to championships and the Olympic Games.


We have given you a brief and varied history of table tennis. What started out as a game played in English homes, has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Since its humble beginnings, not a lot has changed, except for the materials used to play this game with.

Now you know a little more about the origins and history of table tennis.

Dave White