The Development of Pool
Soon after the first pool table was created in France, they began to appear in other countries, with the first in Great Britain. It is also noted that pool began to spread further, to Spain, then to the Netherlands and to China. Peter I’s imperial Russia created its own version of the game, today known as Russian pyramid or Russian pool. A few centuries later, when European civilisation was developing in America, tables found their way to this continent – and it was there that pool had its greatest successes and spread to become the game that is so well-known today. Among the well-known European intellectuals who were aficionados of the game of pool was Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, professor of logic and metaphysics who lived at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. After lectures, the professor would often visit a patisserie next to his college, to play pool. Captain Francois Mingaud of the Napoleonic army, who invented a leather tip that could be glued to a pool cue, is a great example of how the game could captivate. The captain found himself in jail, but, for good behaviour, he earned the right to play pool while incarcerated; he became so engrossed in a game with an anonymous opponent that he requested of the prison governor an eight-day extension to his sentence in order to finally settle the question of who was the better player.
Captain Mingaud’s notion of a specialised pool cue tip was not accepted until the beginning of the 19th century. It was taken up thanks to the Englishman J. Carry, who applied chalk to the tip. This enabled the ball to spin, which is a key technique used in modern pool. Balls were once made of wood, specifically from the knots and roots of very hard wood trees, with laborious machining giving them their circular shape. These balls, though, had many flaws, and were sensitive to temperature and humidity changes.
Ivory balls were also used, but like their wooden counterparts they were prone to deformation and colour loss, and above all the material used made them extremely expensive. And, in fact, it was ball production that inhibited the development of pool – with stone being too heavy, wood too unstable, and ivory too expensive. In the case of the latter material, it is worth mentioning that four tusks were required for the production of one set of balls; this meant that two elephants had to die, with all the attendant risks and costs of hunting these animals.
The breakthrough came in 1868, when US inventor J. W. Hyatt produced balls from a mixture of nitrocellulose, camphor and alcohol. Later, a mixture of clay, celluloid and even metal was introduced. Mass production of pool balls began in the 1920s, after the introduction of artificial phenolic resins, and this was followed by a real boom in the game of pool. Today’s balls are made of plastic with resin, so they are very durable, do not deform, and most importantly have excellent elasticity so that their paths after striking another surface can be predicted. The price of modern pool balls, suited to almost all pockets, is also of great importance. Balls for the popular game of pool today are 57.2 mm in diameter and weigh about 170 grams.