Of Billiard Tables and Pool Cues: A Brief History of Pocket Billiards

From its origins as an outdoor game to today’s version played in bars across the country, pocket billiards – also known as pool – continues to entertain. As it evolved, more ways to play emerged with numerous iterations, including versions with and without pockets.

How Pocket Billiards Got Its Green Felt Surface

The game known today as pool, or pocket billiards, likely started somewhere in France in the 15th century. This early version featured several similarities to another lawn game, croquet. Like croquet, the lawn version of pool had wickets and sticks. These accessories would eventually disappear from gameplay by the end of the 18th century.

When the game moved to tabletop play, it retained the stick and hoop to push balls through. Green felt replaced the trimmed lawn of the outdoor version of the game. These early tables featured six pockets and two balls. The stick used, called a mace rather than a cue, pushed balls across the table.

By the late 17th century, the cue stick began to replace the mace. This evolution happened naturally from how the players used the mace during play. For instance, when the ball got too close to one of the sides the mace became cumbersome to use. Players would turn the mace around to use the handle to move the ball. Since the handle of the mace was the “queue” for “tail,” the name stuck in pronunciation and its spelling changed to cue for the streamlined version of the stick.

During the 1700s, pool had a clear place in colonial society with several cabinetmakers also producing pocket billiards tables. However, not until the 19th century did public pool parlors open. By 1850, the country saw its first publication on the American version of the game, written by Michael Phelan. This work of his and his subsequent articles in magazines and innovations to the game rocketed pool to a new level of popularity.

Over time, the game saw ups and downs in the public’s impression of it, but today has emerged as a timeless, quality game for serious and casual players alike. 

What’s in a Name? – Pocket Billiards vs. Pool

The French word for the stick, “billart,” or the name for a ball, “bille” likely gave this game its original name of billiards. While some people still refer to the game as “billiards,” pool has evolved as a more common term.

Billiards, more technically, can refer to any type of game – with or without pockets – in which players strike balls with a cue. While all forms of pool are billiards, not all billiards games are the same as pool. For example, English billiards does not have pockets on the table and only uses three balls. Pocket billiards typically refers to the game commonly known as pool.

The term pool likely emerged from betting pools that sprung around play during the seedier times of the game’s history in gambling backrooms of bars. In this regard, a pool referred to the money that gamblers wagered on the game and would be divided among those who chose the game’s winner.

Televised Tournaments to Home Game Rooms – Pocket Billiards Remains a Game for All

While luck-based games get dull over time, pocket billiards does not. All variations of billiards require some expertise to reach a master level. However, they also allow players of all abilities to learn the basics and build their skills over time. Largely thanks to the ability of players to acquire and build skills over time, pool continues to be a popular option for players today.

Aficionados of the game can enjoy broadcasts of professional-level tournaments, from which they can learn tips to improve their own games at home. With the availability of pool tables at a variety of price points and sizes, anyone can practice pocket billiards today in the comfort of their own home.

Invest in This Timeless Game

Owning a pool table is like having a piece of history in the home. To enjoy this timeless classic, invest in a pocket billiard table for a home game room. Find a selection of high-quality tables at A&C Billiards and Barstools in addition to accessories and furniture.