Some of you may remember a time when family vacations by road included just as many frames of bowling as they did rounds of mini-golf. It’s more than likely that dad or mom (or maybe even both) were also part of a local bowling league and, even on vacation, they wanted to get in a little practice wherever they could. So, along with their luggage full of shorts, shirts and tennis shoes, they probably also brought along their bowling ball and bowling shoes. Besides, bowling is fun for the whole family and you enjoyed it just as much as they did. So, in the spirit of the ultimate family road trip that often included a stop at the local bowling alley, Stuckey’s looks at bowling and why its golden age coincided with that of the golden age of family road trips.

Bowling’s Beginnings

Remember watching the Flintstones when Fred and Barney would go bowling? Well, bowling doesn’t go back quite as far as the modern Stone-Age family, but it goes back a long time. In fact, an anthropologist by the name of Sir Flinders Petrie and several archaeologists discovered an assortment of ancient bowling balls, pins and other bowling related artifacts in 1930. The contents – the earliest known artifacts ever found of the game – were found in the grave of an Egyptian boy who died around 3200 B.C., just a few years before the first Egyptian pharaoh, Narmer, was born.  

Ancient bowling artifacts found in the tomb of an Egyptian boy.

Since Sir Petrie’s discovery in 1930, other archaeologists and anthropologists have also found what they believe is evidence of just how the Ancient Egyptians rolled through their discovery of hieroglyphics and artwork depicting a sport surprisingly similar to modern day bowling. What’s more, an ancient hall believed to be one of the first indoor bowling alleys was unearthed around 90 miles south of Cairo by Professor Edda Bresciani from the University of Pisa.

“Say what you want about Tutankhamen, that dude could roll!”

Nevertheless, that claim was disputed by German historian William Pehle who believes that Monks actually invented the game in German in 300 A.D. These monk set up these early forms of bowling pins they called “kegals” which represented sin and temptation. Some they would throw stones at them until they knocked them over, thereby overcoming sin.

Bowling Strikes America

While the origins of bowling may still be up for debate, what is sure is that bowling was first brought to America by British, German, and Dutch settlers. In fact, the earliest known evidence of bowling in America is a 1670 depiction of Dutchmen playing the game in an area of New York City still known as “Bowling Green”.

Dutchmen bowling in New York City’s Bowling Green park

Washington Irving was the first to write about it in American literature in his 1819 classic Rip Van Winkle where he describes watching the ghosts of Dutchmen “crashing the nine pins”. However, just a year later it would be more well known as a game of gambling and vice taking place in alleys (from whence comes the term “bowling alley”), and later bowling halls where it soon became banned or outlawed in many states. 

However, all of this seediness and vice actually led to what we now know today as 10 pin bowling. You see, back during those days bowling used only nine pins. However, when an 1841 law was passed in Connecticut making it illegal to play nine pins, sly players of the game simply added a pin, thus today’s ten pin bowling.

Later in the 19th century, it was clear that there were too many variations of the game being played and the games needed some regulation. As a result, a man named Joe Thum and the United Bowling Clubs in New York got together in 1895 and set up the American Bowling Congress.

However, although women were very much involved in the sport of bowling, they weren’t allowed in the American Bowling Congress. Nevertheless, they held their own national women’s tournament in 1907. A decade later, the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) was formed, creating the world’s largest sports league

A League of Its Own

It was around the time that the American Bowling Congress was formed that the first bowling leagues were established. A bowling league is a scheduled event where bowling teams meet up to bowl against one another, typically once a week.  Tournaments were held with coveted trophy prizes which were sources of local pride.

Stuckey’s Ladies’ Bowling Team, Punta Gorda, Florida
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp

With trophies and cash to be won, can you blame your folks for wanting to practice in every bowling alley they could even when you all were out on road trips?

Right Up Your Alley

Speaking of bowling alleys, it might surprise you that the bowling alleys you know today weren’t developed until the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The first bowling alleys were built out West and cost a pretty penny to construct. In fact, the most expensive one was a sixty-lane bowling alley built in El Cajon, California, at a cost of one million dollars. (Incidentally, they also set aside five acres for parking.)

Postcard of Country Club Lanes in Sacramento, California

And bowling alleys weren’t built just for the game, either.  Most bowling lanes also featured snack bars, pool rooms, cocktail bars, and areas where children could play, making the bowling alley appealing to the whole family.

And it really was appealing to everyone. You see, in the golden age of bowling that lasted from the 1940’s to the early 1970’s, the bowling alley wasn’t just a place to go roll a few frames. It was a community center where neighbors and strangers alike met, had a couple of beers, caught up with community news and gossip, and bowled a few games while their kids played together.

Postcard: Interior Bowling Alley in Pocono region of Pennsylvania

Joining a league meant you were part of that community. Even businesses like Stuckey’s realized the importance of community and camaraderie and often sponsored their own teams.

So it was when you took family vacations by car, too.  Vacationers could pull in to the local bowling alley and feel like they were home.  And just as the googie and tiki architectural style of cafes, restaurants and other businesses attracted locals, they were meant to attract out-of-towners, as well.

Today, the sport of bowling continues to grow thanks to modern technology that has helped improve the game. Monitors and electronic scoring have replaced the overhead projectors and scoring-by hand.

Why not take the family bowling on your next road trip?
Photo: Pixabay

In the end, bowling still remains one of the best activities where friends and family can get together for a little friendly competition even while on the road. So, the next time find yourself out exploring the blue highways of America, be sure to include a stop at one of the local bowling alleys and bowl a couple of frames with the locals.

Bowling isn’t the only way Stuckey’s rolls, however. In fact, we’ve been rolling since Ethel Stuckey made the first Stuckey’s pecan log roll way back in 1937. So while you’re out on the open road, or on your way to league tournament play, don’t forget to make a Stuckey’s stop and grab a few pecan log rolls of your own. In fact, why not take a couple of “spares” back home to your bowling buddies down at local lanes?  And don’t forget some of our other fine pecan candies and road trip snacks for the family. Besides, even if you don’t come back with a trophy, you’ll still come back a winner with Stuckey’s branded souvenir t-shirts, hats, and mugs.

By the way, you can still score even if there are no Stuckey’s locations near you yet. Now it’s easier than ever to get Stuckey’s merchandise delivered right to your front door without even having to worry about shoe rental.  Visit our website and find out how today at stuckeys.com.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!