Who Invented Nine Pin Bowling?

Most of us have gone bowling at some point in our lives, and we can all agree that it’s a fun and pretty straightforward game. However, did you know that nine pin – not ten pin – bowling used to be the standard type of bowling? Neither did I!

It was Martin Luther who invented nine pin bowling in the Middle Ages after several experiments convinced him that nine pins were the ideal number of pins for the game. Luther was an enthusiastic bowler who sought to improve the game he and his family loved.

A Short Overview of Nine Pin Bowling

Nine pin bowling was first popularized in Germany back in the Medieval Ages after Martin Luther, an avid bowling enthusiast, decided that nine was the ideal number of pins for a great game of bowling.

Back then, players could choose to play indoors or outdoors, with slight variations for each setting. If played indoors, players must roll the ball at the pins to score. However, when playing outside, they had the option to either roll the ball or throw them at the pins to score. This accounts for the rougher terrain found outdoors.

While Martin Luther popularized this form of bowling, it wasn’t until 1895 that standardized rules and regulations were created by the American Bowling Congress.

Nine pin bowling remained the most popular form of bowling in the US until it was replaced by ten pin bowling in the 1930s. Nowadays, nine pin bowling is mostly played in European countries, with over 100,000 players in the continent.

Most people are now more familiar with ten pin bowling in the US, with most nine pin bowling alleys all but disappeared. The only exception is Texas, where both nine and ten pin bowling are still widely played in the state.

The Invention of Nine Pin Bowling

As mentioned, nine pin bowling was first popularized as the standard by Martin Luther during the 16th century. Bowling was already a popular game back then, but it was initially part of the country’s religious rites wherein the pins or “clubs” represented the devil, sin, or evil.

Toppling those clubs by rolling a stone towards them was considered a form of cleansing for man, ridding himself of sin. Should he fail to knock them all down, it meant that he needed to work harder to become a good Christian.

Until the 15th century, the number of pins used for the rite varied, ranging from three to seventeen. Martin Luther is considered to be the one that fixed the number of pins to nine.

Since then, nine pin bowling became the norm, and it was eventually introduced in the US in the 18th century. It was later banned in the 1930s, which led to the invention of ten pin bowling which is now considered the standard when we think of bowling.

Why Was Nine Pin Bowling Banned?

Since its introduction in the 18th century by the Dutch, nine pin bowling became so popular in the US that many workers took time off work just to engage in the activity.

Aside from this, gambling became prevalent during this time as well, leading to a moral panic that the activity was destroying work ethic and had ties to organized crime.

Thus, lawmakers sought to ban the activity in the early 20th century, hoping to restore the people’s work ethic and eliminate gambling. Lawmakers in Connecticut and New York were the first to outlaw the game, but they only banned nine pin bowling. This means that bowling with any other number of pins was still allowed.

This led to another bowling enthusiast to invent ten pin bowling, a slight variation from the original.

Nine Pin Bowling vs. Ten Pin Bowling

After the invention of ten pin bowling, it became the standard form in the US while nine pin bowling was still the popular choice for most Europeans. Only Texas has nine pin bowling alleys nowadays in the US.

Nine pin bowling and ten pin bowling have slight differences, though the premise remains the same. You need to roll the ball towards the pins, and your score depends on the number of pins you topple.

Number of Pins

One of the primary differences between these two bowling types is the number of pins involved. As their names suggest, nine pin bowling requires nine pins while ten pin bowling requires ten pins.

Arrangement of Pins

Next is the arrangement of the pins. In nine pin bowling, the pins are assembled in a diamond shape, and the King Pin or the center pin is painted a bright red. Meanwhile, in ten pin bowling, the pins are arranged in a triangle, with the point facing the player.

Additionally, in nine pin bowling, the pins are arranged manually by a human setter instead of the automated setting machines used by ten pin bowling.

Equipment – Pins and Bowling Balls

Another difference is that pins in nine pin bowling are generally more prominent than those used in ten pin bowling. In contrast, the bowling balls used for ten pin are larger than in nine pin bowling, and they have three holes, unlike the balls used for nine pin bowling.

How It’s Played

I won’t go too deep into this, but the way nine pin bowling and ten pin bowling are played varies slightly as well. For example, the number of frames for ten pin bowling is ten, and you get two turns for each frame.

On the other hand, nine pin bowling involves six frames per game and two turns per frame. Nine pin bowling relies heavily on teamwork as well, while ten pin bowling can be played alone.

Final Thoughts

Bowling has definitely become one of the most popular activities in the world, with thousands of bowling alleys still in operation until now.

While the standard has changed to ten pin bowling in the US, Martin Luther changed the game by standardizing the number of pins to nine during his time.