FAQFAQFacts, History, Movies Dealing with Pool and Billiards

... various pool and billiards facts, history, and Hollywood movies.

Dr. Dave's answers to frequently-asked questions (FAQs), mostly from the AZB discussion forum




What are some interesting billiards facts?

from 8Ball48043:

1. Billiards evolved from a lawn game similar to croquet played sometime during the 15th century in Northern Europe (probably in France).

2. The term "poolroom" now means a place where billiards is played, but in the 19th century a poolroom was a betting parlor for horse racing. Billiard tables were installed so patrons could pass the time between races. The game of billiards and the poolroom became connected in the public's mind. Today, the two terms are used interchangeably.

3. Pool is one of the safest sports in the world.

4. The dome on Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, conceals a billiard room. In Jefferson's day, billiards was illegal in Virginia.

5. The term "scratch", as applied to a pocketing of the cue ball, was derived from the penalty assessed for such a foul. In pool's early days, the score was often kept on a chalkboard. When a player pocketed the cue ball, his opponent "scratched" a point off the shooter's score.

6. According to research conducted a few years back, billiard champions have the highest average age of any sport, 35.6 years.

7. Tom Cruise did his own trick billiard shots for the 1986 film, The Color of Money, except for one in which he had to jump two balls to sink another. Director Martin Scorsese said he wanted to let Cruise learn the shot, but it would have taken two extra days of practice, which would have held up production and cost thousands of dollars. The shot was instead performed by professional billiards player Mike Sigel.

8. Billiards was the first sport to have a world championship (1873).

9. In 1586, the castle of Mary, Queen of Scots, was invaded and captured. The Invaders made a note of forbidding her the use of her billiard table. They then killed her, and used the covering of the table to cover her body.

10. In 1765 A.D., the first billiard room was built in England. Played there was One-Pocket, which was a table with one pocket and four balls.

11. The first coin-operated billiard table was patented in 1903. The cost of a game on the first pay-for-play table: one penny.

12. Before the invention of celluloid and other new-age plastics, billiard balls were made out of ivory. The elephants can thank their present existence on the invention of plastics. Because billiard balls had to be cut from the dead center of a tusk, the average tusk yielded only 3 to 4 balls.

13. Captain Mingaud, the inventor of the leather cue tip, was imprisoned for political reasons during the French Revolution. With the help of a fellow prisoner, he was able to have a billiard table installed in his cell. It was during his incarceration that be became obsessed with the game, that he devised and perfected his invention. His obsession became so intense, that at the end of his prison term, he actually asked for a longer sentence so that he could complete his study of the game.

14. The world's largest billiard hall was built during billiards' "Golden Age". "The Recreation", a mammoth seven-story health spa, was a bustling Detroit business in the 1920's. It featured 103 tables, 88 bowling lanes, 20 barber chairs, three manicuring stands, 14 cigar stands, a lunch counter on each floor, a restaurant that could seat 300, and an exhibition room with theater seating, that could accommodate 250 spectators.

15. The Hustler was based on a novel by Walter Tevis. The novel, however, was based on a short story he had earlier submitted to Playboy. Before "The Hustler" was released, the "Philco TV Theater" aired an episode called "Goodbye, Johnny", which bore an uncanny resemblance to the Playboy short story. In it, Cliff Robertson portrayed the cocky young hustler, making Robertson - not Newman - the original "Fast Eddie" Felson.

16. Marquetry - the art of making pictures or designs with thin slices of wood, shell or other materials - has long enhanced the beauty of tables and cues. The art form is hardly a recent development. It has been practiced in Egypt and the Orient for more than 3,000 years.

17. Wille Hoppe was truly a legendary player. Yet, his most famous match strangely had more to do with a penknife, than his unequaled wizardry of the game. In 1925, he met Robert Cannefax, the Three-Cushion champion. After several games, Cannefax, who preferred a fast cloth, asked to move the match to a different table. Hoppe, who was leading, said the cloth was just fine, and refused to allow a change. An incensed Cannefax drew a penknife and savagely cut the cloth down the center of the table. Hoppe was immediately awarded the match, and Cannefax was suspended from competition for a year. Ironically, Cannefax never played another match. He toured vaudeville for several years, and then died of meningitis in 1928.

18. Throughout most of the 1800's, the chalk used on the new leather cue tips was carbonate of lime, better known as blackboard chalk.

19. Most chalk used today is comprised of fine abrasives and does not contain a speck of chalk.

20. The Church has long been a part of billiard history. From its earliest days, the game was often denounced as a sinful, dangerous, morally corrupt activity. In 15th century France, billiards play was forbidden, by the Church, as well as the King. In early American history, actual laws were passed (thanks to religious influences), outlawing the game in many parts of the land.

21. The first 18.2 Balkline Championship was held in Paris, in 1913. It will probably be the only world championship in history ever decided by the courts. After six days of play, three contestants were tied for the first place. When a tie-breaking playoff was suggested, Maurice Vignaux, the French champion and notorious whiner when things weren't going his way, scoffed at the suggestion. He insisted the title should be awarded based on the highest overall average (which he, of course, had at the time). Vignaux refused to continue, and the matter wound up in the French courts. (Which, of course, awarded Vignaux, their countryman, the title, after a delay of more than two months).

22. No one knows exactly who, when or where the first billiard table was built. The earliest documented record of a billiard table was made in 1470. In an inventory of the possessions of King Louis XI of France, his table was said to have contained the following: a bed of stone, a cloth covering, and a hole in the middle of the playing field, into which balls could be driven.

23. What is billiard cloth made of? Amazingly, the main component of billiard cloth has remained unchanged for over 400 years. Wool was used in the 1500's, and remains the fabric of choice today. It has, of course, undergone some perfecting (and some wool/nylon blends are also produced).

24. Tables originally had flat vertical walls for rails and their only function was to keep the balls from falling off. They resembled riverbanks and even used to be called "banks". Players discovered that balls could bounce off the rails and began deliberately aiming at them. Thus a "bank shot" is one in which a ball is made to rebound from a cushion as part of the shot.

25. At times, including during the Civil War, billiard results received wider coverage than war news. Players were so renowned that cigarette cards were issued featuring them.


from Jason Janosik (via e-mail), concerning item 4 above:

It's a common misconception that billiards was illegal VA in Thomas Jefferson's day.  The truth is that the whole story is fiction. I have lived in VA my whole life and been to Monticello a few times as it is less than an hour drive from me; so when I heard this I was interested and went digging.  Virginia did levy a 50 pound tax per table in the late 1700's and it was illegal to play for betting purposes (and still is) but it was never illegal in homes.  Check out the article on Monticello's web site.



What is the history of pool and billiards?

See "history of pool and billiards" in the reference section of the instructor and student resource page.


Who contributed the most important historical inventions in billiards?

from jason:

CHARLES GOODYEAR - Gave us rubber and gave billiards bank shots
Discovered the process for the vulcanization of rubber. Applications of his discovery revolutionized the billiard cushion (as well as a hundred other industries). Vulcanized rubber was stable and consistent. Unlike previous rubbers, it retained its resiliency in the most searing heat and the bitterest cold. John Thurston was the first to use Goodyear's discovery in the construction of billiard cushions. The result was a consistent, reliable cushion. Bank shots, once unpredictable, became integral parts of the game. Vulcanized rubber has proven so unsurpassed, it is still used in cushions today. Charles Goodyear, sadly, profited little from his discovery. He was imprisoned for debt, his company folded, and he died a veritable pauper.

JOHN WESLEY HYATT - Inventor of the composite billiard ball
The inventor of the world's first plastic. His discovery of celluloid, in 1869, revolutionized not only the billiard ball, but countless industries worldwide. Strangely, his discovery had more to do with billiards than any plastic-related vision or enterprise. His search began as a result of a $10,000 prize, being offered for a substitute for ivory, in the composition of billiard balls.

Though his discovery was not deemed worthy of the prize, later advances in plastics led to the balls of today, and forever changed the face of the world. It can thusly be stated that the world's first plastic was actually the result of a billiard-related quest: the search for a new material, for the perfect billiard ball.

CAPTAIN MINGAUD - Invented the modern cue tip & Massé shots...honed the scientific edge of shotmaking
Invented the leather cue tip in the early 1800's. Imprisoned in France for political reasons. Was allowed the use of a billiard table inside his prison cell, and became obsessed with the game. Became a student of the physics of shotmaking, and truly transformed the cue into a scientific instrument. Revolutionized the "magic" one could impart on the cue ball, through the use of "spin" and "english."

Mingaud also discovered that by raising the cue almost vertically - in fact into the position in which the mace would be used - extraordinary spin effects could be obtained by striking a sharp downwards glancing blow to the left and right across the cue ball. This type of shot or stroke became known as the massé - French for mace. No other invention so dramatically affected "touch," control, positioning, and overall strategic play.

JOHN THURSTON - Brought table making into the Industrial Age..invented the first Slate table
English inventor and table maker. Among the first to mass-produce tables, with the onset of industrialization. Inventor of the slate table bed. Unsatisfied with the playability and warping tendency of wood, he set out in search of a new material. His discovery came in the form of slate, in 1826. Slate was cheap, readily available, and offered a far smoother surface. Its immense weight led to the construction of far sturdier tables. His innovation has truly withstood the test of time. Slate continues to be the material of choice in quality tables today.

JOHN M. BRUNSWICK - The first big name in the American Billiards Industry Swiss immigrant and woodworker. Emigrated to America in 1819. Built a billiard table factory in 1845. For nearly 150 years, Brunswick has been the most visible name in American billiards. Merged with his two largest competitors—Julius Balke, in 1873; and Phelan and Collender, in 1884. Officially became "Goliath," the largest billiard company in the world. Passed control to his family, upon his death, in 1886. For over forty years (until the Depression), the company enjoyed an incredible upward spiral of profits, growth and success. Entered (and soon monopolized) the bowling industry. Worked hard to improve billiards reputation, by teaching and donating tables to charitable groups. Drastically cut product lines during the Depression. Survived and grew again as economy improved. Sponsored thousands of tournaments over the course of the centuries. In the world of billiards, Brunswick remains the dominant name in American pool rooms and homes.



What Hollywood movies have been made featuring pool and billiards?

The most popular and successful, along with featured shots, are described and illustrated here:


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