It is believed that the game of billiards originated some time during the 15th century in France and spread to England. This was a form of entertainment for the Europeans. At that time people liked lawn games such as lawn bowling which eventually grew into a game similar to croquet. Over the years, the game was moved indoors and raised off the floor to a table height. The problem with playing billiards on a table was the balls kept rolling off, so wooden rails or bumpers were attached to the table’s edges to keep the balls in play. The first pool table dates back to around 1470 when King Louis XI had one. King Louis’ pool table had only one pocket in the middle of the table. By the 1500’s, pool tables were common in taverns and public places in France. Around 1600 another modification was made with the addition of rubber strips to the wooden side rails. These were used as cushions to give the balls added bounce when hitting the edges of the table. The rubber also served to protect the wood edges from chipping.
Cushions, also called Rail Cushions, were located on the inner side of a table’s wooden rails. The cushions were made from a vulcanized rubber (gum or synthetic). The purpose was to cause the billiard balls to rebound off the rubber while minimizing the loss of kinetic energy. The profile of the rail cushion which is the angle in relation to the bed of the table varies between table types. The standard American pool table has a base of 1-3/16″ and a nose height of 1″. This causes the balls’ rebound to be somewhat predictable during game play.
A green cloth covered the table to look like the color of the lawn. The pockets were initiated on to the table in place of the targets from the lawn game. The object of the game then became to use one ball to hit the other balls into the pockets. Since that time, more pockets have been added until the current number of six pockets evolved.
As an interesting note, during Civil War times results of pool games were more widely read than war news. Professional pool players assisted in furthering the popularity of the game creating a myth of a pool shark or hustler. Pool has emerged into a game that has seen many changes in technology and socialization since then.
Around 1826 a dramatic change was made to the pool table and an Englishman invented the slate bed which made for a much smoother surface to play on. The slate used in the tables is mined from quarries, mostly in China, and sent to factories for inspection as only the best pieces are used in the pool tables. The slate is cut and planed to its desired thickness then drilled with diamond drill bits that cut 18 nail bolts and 6 pockets at one time. A grinding machine then smoothes the surface and refines the thickness of the slate. The edges are beveled by hand.
The popularity of the game increased as more people took interest. In America, billiards became popular in the 19th century. There were books written about billiards and rules to guide players. Eventually, a company began manufacturing the equipment to play and the game became known as pool. The name “pool” denotes a bet or ante that is made on the game.