Billiards emerged sometime during the 15th century. It evolved from a Northern European lawn game that resembles modern croquet. The billiards table design borrows many elements from its outdoor roots. For instance, the green felt simulates grass just as the rails, often referred to as banks, act as river banks or perimeters for boxing in the playing field.
To adapt the sport for indoor gameplay, the equipment changed over the years from maces to cues. Maces were wooden sticks with large heads, meant for pushing rather than striking. When the balls would rest against the rails, players would flip the mace over and use the thin end to strike the ball. This technique proved challenging, a reason why players began to use it more frequently in subsequent decades.
The progression towards the modern cue slowly unravelled during the late 1600s. That said, the industrial revolution contributed most to the development of modern billiards equipment.
A Game for the Nobility and Common Folk Alike
The earliest billiards accounts come from the nobility; however, there is substantial evidence that the sport was enjoyed by the peasantry and working class too. In fact, there are references to the sport in various works of art and literature—most notably, Shakespearean plays.
Interestingly, billiards was the first sport to hold a world championship in 1873. Around this time, the most popular game was English Billiards; Eight-Ball wasn’t invented until the 1900s. Pool games, as we call them today, were popularized in the 20th century as betting games—pool references the pot or ante. Although many forms of billiards involved betting, it was straight billiards and Eight-Ball that kept the name.