The game originated in England during the 1880s, where it was played among the upper-class as an after-dinner parlor game. It has been suggested that the game was first developed by British military officers in India or South Africa who brought it back with them. A row of books was stood up along the center of the table as a net, two more books served as rackets and were used to hit a golf-ball continuously from one end of the table to the other. (Perhaps after a few too many after dinner brandies!) Alternatively table tennis was played with paddles made of cigar box lids and balls made of champagne corks.
The popularity of the game led game manufacturers to produce and commercially sell equipment . Early rackets were often pieces of parchment stretched upon a frame, and the sound generated in play gave the game its first nicknames of “wiff-waff” and “ping-pong”. A number of sources indicate that the game was first brought to the attention of Hamley’s of Regent Street under the name “Gossima”.
The name “ping-pong” was in wide use before British manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd trademarked it in 1901. The name “ping-pong” then came to be used for the game played by the rather expensive Jaques’s equipment, with other manufacturers calling it table tennis. A similar situation arose in the United States, where Jaques sold the rights to the “ping-pong” name to Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers then enforced their trademark for the term in the 1920s making the various associations change their names to “table tennis” instead of the more common, but trademarked, term.
The next major innovation was by James W. Gibb, a British enthusiast of table tennis, who discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the US in 1901 and found them to be ideal for the game. This was followed by E.C. Goode who, in 1901, invented the modern version of the racket by fixing a sheet of pimpled, or stippled, rubber to the wooden blade. Table tennis was growing in popularity by 1901 to the extent that tournaments were being organized, books being written on the subject,and an unofficial world championship was held in 1902. During the early 1900s, the game was banned in Russia because the rulers at the time believed that playing the game had an adverse effect on players’ eyesight.
In 1921, the Table Tennis Association was founded in Britain, and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) followed in 1926. London hosted the first official World Championships in 1926. In 1933, the United States Table Tennis Association, now called USA Table Tennis, was formed.
In the 1930s, Edgar Snow commented in Red Star Over China that the Communist forces in the Chinese Civil War had a “passion for the English game of table tennis” which he found “bizarre”.
The early paddles were often covered with sandpaper which gave each hit a distinct clacking sound. In the 1950s, rackets that used a rubber sheet combined with an underlying sponge layer changed the game dramatically, introducing greater spin and speed. These were introduced to Britain by sports goods manufacturer S.W. Hancock Ltd.
On April 6th, 1971, the US table tennis team was invited to play in China. Four days later, nine players, four officials and two spouses crossed the bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland. They were the first group of Americans to be allowed into the country since the communist take-over in 1949. This event marked the thawing of the Cold War and ushered in improved relations between the United States and China. It was often referred to as “ping pong diplomacy.” Time magazine called it “the pong heard throughout the world.” It was shortly followed with a visit to China by President Nixon.
The “arms race” began in table tennis through a quest to make faster blades and rubber. The use of speed glue increased the spin and speed even further, resulting in changes to the equipment standards to “slow the game down”. Table tennis was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Olympics in 1988.
The modern game of table tennis is governed by international rules that provide for uniform standards for tournament play around the world. Regulations are in place for the playing characteristics of rubber, size and composition of tables, height of nets, for example. In the United States, the USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis. This organization sanctions regional and national tournaments and provides a rating system for players who participate in these tournaments.
Table tennis today is a sport that appeals to all ages and genders. It can provide hours of great cardiovascular exercise in a relatively small area of space.
Rules of the Game
The ball is put into play by tossing it at least 6 inches into the air with an open hand and striking it on the server’s side of the table first before it bounces over the net to the opponent’s side. The receiver returns the ball (hopefully) back to the server’s side of the table. The ball must travel over or around the net to the other side of the table and land on the playing surface (not on the sides of the table). The ball must be struck with the flat surface of the players “bat,” paddle, or racquet, or with the hand holding the paddle during the play of a point.
It is not proper to yell in the middle of a point or distract your opponent by making strange gestures or noises. Your racquet’s surface must conform to ITTF regulations, but may be any size you like. For example, you could use a paddle the size of a garbage can lid as long as its surface conforms to regulations. (Might be a bit on the slow side in a fast rally, however.)
A point is scored when one player is not able to fairly return a ball to the opponents playing surface – i.e., hits into the net, off the end of the table or drills the opponent between the eyes. The winner of a game must win by at least two points. When the game reaches 11 – 11, play continues until one player agains a two-point advantage and wins the game.
Matches are the best of two out of three, three out of five or sometimes 5 out of 7 games. Check out the Table Tennis Rules section on our website for more complete official rules and regulations.