Table tennis originated in England as an after dinner amusement for upper class Victorians in the 1880’s. A number of sources indicate that the game was first brought to the attention of Hamley’s of Regent Street under the name “Cossima”. Mimicking the game of tennis in an indoor environment, everyday objects were originally enlisted to act as the equipment. A line of books would be the net, a rounded top of a Champagne cork or knot of string as the ball, and a cigar box lid as the paddle.
The widespread popularity of the game eventually caused sports manufacturers to sell the equipment commercially. Early paddles were often pieces of parchment stretched upon a frame and the sound generated in play gave the game its first nicknames of “whiff whaff” and “ping pong”. The name ping pong was in wide use for the sport before English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd officially trademarked it in 1901. Ping pong then was only to be used for the rather expensive Jaques equipment, while being called table tennis in terms of other manufacturer’s equipment. A similar situation came to exist in the United States when Jaques sold the rights to the ping pong name to Parker Brothers.
The next major ping pong innovation was created by James Gibb, an English enthusiast of the game, who discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the U.S. in 1901 and found them to be the ideal more ideal ball for the game. This finding was followed by E.C. Goode who then invented the modern version of the racket by fixing a sheet of pimpled, or stippled, rubber to the wooden blade in 1903. In the 1950’s, rackets that used a rubber sheet combined with a underlying sponge layer changed the game dramatically, introducing greater spin and speed. The use of speed glue increased the spin and speed even further, resulting in changes to the equipment to “slow the game down”.
Table tennis was growing in popularity by 1901 when table tennis tournaments were being organized, books on table tennis were being written, and an unofficial world championship was held in 1902. In 1921, the Table Tennis Association was founded in England and the International Table Tennis Federation followed in 1926. London hosted the game’s first official world championship in 1927 and table tennis was later introduced as an Olympic sport at the Olympics in 1988.
Toward the end of 2000, the ITTF instituted several rules changes aimed at making table tennis more viable as a televised spectator sport. By that time, players began increasing the thickness of the fast sponge layer on their bats, which made the game excessively fast, and difficult to watch on television. First, the older 38mm balls were officially replaced by 40mm ball to increase the ball’s air resistance and effectively slow down the game. Secondly, the ITTF changed from a 21 to an 11 point scoring system, which was intended to make games more fast-paced and exciting. The ITTF also changed the rules on service to prevent a player from hiding the ball during service, in order to increase the average length of rallies and to reduce the server’s advantage.
Since the inception of ping pong, variants of the sport have emerged. “Large ball” table tennis uses a 44mm ball, which slows down the game significantly, is often played by ping pong athletes who have a hard time with the extreme spins and speeds of the 40mm game. There is also a move towards reviving the table tennis game that existed prior to the introduction of sponge rubber. Classic table tennis or “Hardbat” table tennis players reject the speed and spin of reversed sponge rubber, preferring the 1940-60s style of no-sponge, short pimpled rubber of play which makes defense less difficult by decreasing the speed and eliminating any meaningful magnus effect of spin. Because hardbat killer shots are almost impossible to hit against a skilled player, hardbat matches focus on the strategic side of table tennis, requiring skillful maneuvering of the opponent before an attack can be successful.