|Back To Top
Copyright ©Chicago Billiard Museum All Rights Reserved
Illinois becomes a state.
Shadrach Bond is elected as the first Governor.
It was a surprise to find that the founder of this museum, D.B. Bond and
Shadrach Bond both descended from the same family tree.
An Act for the Prevention of Vice and Immorality.
From the Illinois General Assembly's first legislative sessions in
1819, came forth "An Act for the Prevention of Vice and Immorality ", a
state law prohibiting citizens of Illinois from playing at: "cards, dice,
billiards, bowls, shovel board, or any game of hazard ". Violators were
to pay $10 for each offense.
In 1827 the legislature raised the fine to a minimum of $25 and also
prohibited the sale of playing cards, dice, and you guessed it....
billiard tables. Source
See Also : A Brief Chronology of Billiard History Prior To 1830
Where the Chicago River meets the shore of Lake Michigan, a slow
but steady trickle of new settlers has developed into the small town of
Chicago. However, in a few short years this same small town will
experience very rapid expansion, more than doubling her population
every decade for nearly 100 years straight.
Excerpt from: The Encyclopedia of Chicago:
" The first three taverns, Caldwell's Tavern (built by James Kinzie), the
Miller House, and Mark Beaubien's tavern, soon known as the
Sauganash Hotel, arose at Wolf's Point at the fork of the Chicago
River during 1829 and 1830. "
See also: 1835 illustration below
Way Back When: Evolution of the Billiard Table Playing Surface
As of 1830, billiard table construction methods had changed very little
over the last 100 years. The playing surface was still made of wood,
and it would stay that way for many years to come. John Thurston (of
England) did employ the first known "slate" bed in about 1826, but this
expensive and labor intensive innovation would not catch on in the
U.S. right away. In fact, marble playing surfaces may have been
offered on U.S. tables before slate was.
The picture below illustrates how a wooden playing surface was
typically constructed in three sections, with alternating panels to
minimize warping and shrinkage. (bottom picture shows a rare extant
wooden bed table from 1816)
|Book: The Noble Game of Billiards; etc
By Captain M. Mingaud, translated by John Thurston 1831.
(Mignaud is said to have been the first person to experiment with leather cue tips)
Chicago incorporated as a "town". Population estimated @ 400
(roughly half were Native Americans, if not more )
A billiard table is hauled by mule-train to Bent's Fort, on the Santa Fe Trail
in Colorado " William Hendricks; History of Billiards 1977
Chicago's first newspaper, "The Chicago Democrat "
prints it's first edition in November 1833. John Wentworth joins the small staff as
editor in 1836 and purchases the paper shortly thereafter. Wentworth will go on to
become a Congressman, an adamant historic preservationist, and in 1857
"Honorable John Wentworth " the mayor of Chicago. See also 1857.
John Moses Brunswick immigrates to the United States from Switzerland.
Thurston introduces the Imperial Petrosian Billiard Table with its slate bed.
William Hendrick; History of Billiards 1977
Halley's Comet appears for the first time since the Declaration of
John Thurston (of England) introduces 'natural rubber' billiard cushions.
Far from perfect, the raw rubber strips were still very susceptible to warm weather
softness and cold weather stiffness. It will be nearly 10 more years before
"vulcanized rubber" is discovered and used for billiard cushions.
Illustration of Chicago at the fork of the river (Wolf Point) in 1835:
|Above excerpt from: Laws and Ordinances Governing the City of Chicago
E.B. Myers & Chandler 1866
A billiard table ordinance is passed in Chicago.
The city imposes a monetary "penalty" for each table, per year.
This penalty becomes the "license" fee. But these penalties weren't morality
induced, in contrast to the state ban which was clearly quite the opposite.
The penalties and fees were calculated as a way for the city to generate revenue, not
to actually prevent people from playing billiard games.
|Excerpt from: Chicago Antiquities 1875 H. H. Hurlbut
Chicago population estimated: 4,470
J.M. Brunswick, now married, moves with his wife from PA to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Early Days of Billiards in Chicago
[ In 1840]...When Robert Fergus made the first Chicago City Directory, one Herman
Hatch, a Vermont yankee, was proprietor of a "public house" at No. 20 Clark street,
near South Water. These were the days when John Barleycorn held sway, and
"Long John" Wentworth practically ruled the town, when the bead was on the
bourbon and the rye was in the still, but whether at the time Hatch included billiards
among the attractions of his pioneer "cafe" is unknown, but four years later...he was
listed as the owner of a billiard parlor, and new "ball alley", this being, as far as
records indicate, the first home of the "gentleman's game" in the Garden City.
About this time the sport apparently grew rapidly in public favor, for during that year
James L. Dole opened a billiard saloon over J. Johnston's barber shop on Clark
street, near Lake, while J.F. Lessey located a like establishment , one block east at
Dearborn and South Water streets, the three competitors being within two squares
of each other, in the very center of the business section, the city then containing
less than five thousand inhabitants.
Excerpt from: Billiards Magazine March 1920, written by A.L. Hardy
July 10, 1843 Chicago Billiard Room Owners Protest "Penalty" Fees
Several billiard room owners get together and begin what becomes a decades long
struggle with the city over the "penalties", aka "licensing fees" for billiard tables.
" Lost " Document #1737
The Billiard Rooms of Chicago (and their owners)
As listed in the 1844 Chicago Directory :
|Images from: Billiards & Snooker Bygones, Norman Clare,1985. Courtesy Joe Newell Collection
Chicago Daily Tribune founded.
First electric telegraph installed in Chicago.
J.M. Brunswick opens his first sales office in Chicago on State Street.
This first branch soon expands to include two factories and an 8,000 square foot
billiard parlor on Washington Street." Source
|Chicago General Directory & Business Advertiser 1844 J.W. Norris
The Billiard Rooms of Chicago 1844: ( from image above )
Herman Hatch - Hatch & Shur Ball Alley and Saloon
W. Shur - Hatch & Shur Ball Alley and Saloon
South Water between State & Dearborn
[J. L. Dole ] New Billiard Saloon
West side of Clark street over J. Johnson's Barber Shop
John F. Lessey - John F. Lessey & Co. Billiard Saloon
Samuel Winegar - John F. Lessey & Co. Billiard Saloon
Corner of Dearborn & South Water
Additional billiard room owners found in the "residential" section of the directory:
J. L. Dole billiard saloon
C.J. Russell - [billiard room @ ] City Hotel Corner of Randolph & Clark
Norman Rew - " Rew & Russell Grocery and Ball Alley" South Water St.
Nathaniel Gould " Gould & Dodge Ball Alley and Grocery "
Martin Dodge " Gould & Dodge Ball Alley and Grocery
South Water St between State & Dearborn
Patent # 3,633 June 15, 1844 Charles Goodyear
Improvement in process for the manufacture of India Rubber.
( vulcanized rubber ) This new stabilized form of rubber will change many industries,
including billiards, forever. See image below.
|Report of the commissioner of patents 1858
Chicago population estimated: 12,088
Sept. 15 - J.M. Brunswick opens a carriage shop in Cincinnati.
Soon thereafter, at a lavish dinner party, John is shown an imported 'Thurston'
billiard table and is immediately inspired. Within a few months time he builds and
sells his first billiard table to a local wealthy meat packer.
John Brunswick had hit a home run. His reputation for quality work spread like a
prairie fire and soon he was receiving orders for tables from across the country.
Little did John know, he was about to change the future of billiards forevermore.
John Thurston is granted the first patent for vulcanized rubber billiard cushions,
utilizing Charles Goodyear's recent discovery.
Way Back When: Evolution of Billiard Table Cushions
The earliest billiard table cushions were very inconsistent and crude at best.
Experimental cushions were made from a whole range of materials including
cotton, flax, hair, sawdust, cork, you name it, they tried it. One version of these early
cushions involved the use of multiple layers of felt or "list", which was bound
together and attached to the table perimeter. See image below.
In the 1830's John Thurston began using strips of raw rubber for cushions, which
was much better than most of the previous incarnations, but still far from perfect.
When vulcanized rubber came along, it did in fact solve the rubber resilience
problem, but it would still take many more years, and many more people to finally
come up with the common cushion profiles that we see today.
|image from: Library of Congress 3a05369u
City of Chicago incorporated. Population estimated: 4,170
"...There were twenty-nine dry-goods stores, five hardware stores, forty-five grocery
and provision establishments, ten taverns, and nineteen lawyers’ offices. Chicago
was the county seat and home to a federal land office and a branch of the State
Bank. [which soon failed] It was also a trading center for those residing as far as 200
miles into the hinterland. " Source
State of IL repeals "billiard ban". Chicago can regulate its own billiard laws.
(see image below)
|Primitive layered felt cushion. Early rubber strip cushions.
Before the discovery of vulcanization, rubber stiffness was sometimes dealt with by
using a set of long cushion-shaped hot water pans. They were filled with boiling
water and placed against the cushion to soften them up during cool or cold weather.
Irons were also used to keep the felt smooth. See image and caption below.
|Images from: Billiards & Snooker Bygones, Norman Clare,1985.
Courtesy Joe Newell Collection
Chicago's First Billiard Hall
An interesting excerpt from a historic profile of early Chicago. Read about the "Rat
Castle" and their competition across the river at the "The Cobweb Castle". Find out
who "Old Geese" was and discover the appearance of what may very well have
been the first actual "billiard room" in Chicago.
|This spot is now located in downtown Chicago. Wolf Point today
Grand Match Between the Kinderhook Poney and the Ohio Ploughman
A satire on the presidential contest of 1836, using the metaphor of a billiards game
between candidate William Henry Harrison (left) and Democrat Martin Van Buren.
The artist is clearly on the side of Harrison, whom he places beneath a portrait of
George Washington, in opposition to Van Buren's perceived mentor and champion
Andrew Jackson who stands at the far end of the table, below a painting of Napoleon.
Harrison: "Now for a six stroke."
Webster: "Now's your chance Harrison. There is a tide in the affairs of men as
Clay: "I'll go a cool Hundred Harrison wins the game."
Sixth man: "I'll bet a cookie he don't make the hazzard."
Jackson (holding what appears to be a bridge): "By the Eternal ! Martin if Harrison
holes you and gets a spot ball on the deep red it is all day with you."
Van Buren: "He's more likely to hole himself General ! "