The Fascinating History of Foosball

foosball table

The history of foosball began back somewhere in the 1800s, however the first foosball table was not patented until 1921, by Harold Searles Thornton who lived in the United Kingdom. In the 1800s there were similar games that had patents, however the table created by Thornton was the most similar to the modern foosball table we know today. To this day, many historians continue to debate who really invented the sport.

Who Invented Foosball?

Did Thornton really create foosball? Many people credit two men Alexandre De Finesterre and Lucien Rosengart. However, it’s difficult to determine who among these men actually invented the game. Rosengart was a French engineer who made bicycles and automobiles. Finesterre was a Spanish telegraphist who had three patented inventions under his belt. Rosengart’s story was that he developed the game one winter, to keep his restless grandchildren entertained.

Finesterre told people he invented the game while he was recovering from an injury he sustained during the war. Finesterre also claimed he actually had a patent for foosball in 1937, but he ended up losing the paperwork at some point during the war. Harold Searles Thornton holds the first verifiable patent for the game.

The Rise of the Foosball Table

Thornton claimed he created the game due to the popularity of football all across Europe. Football is known as soccer in America.

Because of the intense popularity of football in Europe, Thornton decided to create a mini version of football that spectators could play at pubs and in their homes. The inventor actually designed the game with the use of a box of matches. Thornton placed matches on top of the box, that extended past the edge, which gave the inventor the idea for skewering different players on rods and suspending them out over the field.

Foosball’s Introduction in America

In 1962, Larry Patterson, who lived in Cincinnati Ohio, is nationally recognized as the founding inventor of the coin operated foosball tables in America. However, his tables were manufactured in Germany using design specifications he supplied. Patterson incorporated in 1965 and officially became Patterson International Incorporated. During this time, the company conducted business under a Corporation called American Youth Marketing Corporation.

Between 1962 to 1965 Patterson sold a total of 4000 tables. However, he was unsatisfied with this amount. In 1967, he decided to franchise the tables, shipping a total of 10,000 tables between 1967 and 1973.

In 1971, the American Youth Marketing Corporation became unprofitable. Because of this, Patterson had to close the business.

How the Game is Played in Different Countries

Over the years, many countries developed their own unique way to play the game. Not only were the strategies used different, but many manufacturers used different types of table surface materials and ball materials, to achieve slower, or faster speeds, based on how the game was played in each specific country.

Foosball in America

In America, playing foosball is all about power. The surface is of the tables are made out of hard materials such as composite wood or mahogany with balls that are made out of a thick plastic. With American foosball, the game was more about speed and power.

Foosball in France

In France, the French version of foosball is more about precision and control because the surface of their tables is made out of linoleum and they use a ball that’s made out of cork. The French version gave importance to strategic ball passing.

Foosball in Germany

The German version of foosball features a table surface that is significantly softer compared to America versus European tables. Their version of the game was more about guile and strategy when it came to setting up shots.

Modern Foosball

The International Table Soccer Federation, also known as the ITSF, was established in France in 2002. Their mission is to promote and regulate foosball rules. These days, they also regulate certain tables so that they meet specific specs and requirements for official tournaments. The organization also continues to oversee the rulebook for the game.

In both American and European countries, foosball didn’t become widespread until after World War ll. Some people believe that foosball was invented in order to help rehabilitate war veterans. While the game wasn’t invented for that purpose, it has been used in rehabilitation centers with great success, especially when it comes to improving hand-eye coordination. These days, foosball has also played a major role in social rehabilitation and is part of recreational programs that are offered by many federal and state correctional institutions.

Foosball is played all over the world. It can be found in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe, Tahiti, Australia, South America, North Africa, and the Middle East. Japan and Argentina recently expressed the desire to take part in American foosball competitions. This means both countries may be participating in the World Championships sometime in the near future.

The High Point of Foosball

In 1950 the Belgians established their first Foosball League. In the early 1950s, foosball had gained a ton of popularity. These tables could be found in pubs, pool halls, and cafes all over America and Europe. Lee Peppard, a Montana bar owner is credited for helping to grow foosball’s popularity in America. The bar owner set up a high stakes tournament that promised a huge cash prize that ranged from $1000 to $20,000. The tournament was called the Quarter Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour.

Interesting Historical Foosball Facts

Foosball is a very involved game that engages mental capacity and physical agility. While many people believe that it’s a game of chance it’s actually a game of strategy. Players must make plenty of calculations as they try to figure out which type of shot to take. Strategies and techniques have evolved over the years, making the game what it is today.

Below you’ll find a list of some fun historical foosball facts that most people don’t know.

  • Foosball goes by many names in different parts of the world. The names include babyfoos, biliardino, kicker, footzy, table soccer, and table football. Foosball actually comes from the German word for football, or “fussball”.
  • This game can be addictive and it’s very common for players to spend an entire day playing. The longest recorded game in history lasted a total of 61 hours and 17 minutes, or 2 1/2 days.
  • In the 1970s, foosball was so popular that it was featured in an issue of Sports Illustrated.
  • As I mentioned throughout this article, the history behind who actually invented foosball is very murky. Despite the patent being awarded to Thornton, the game gained popularity in different parts of Europe as early as the 1880s.
  • There are currently four different types of foosballs produced. The materials they’re made out of include regular plastic, plastic that’s smooth, plastic that’s textured, and cork material. A traditional foosball is made out of hard plastic and has an indented black and white soccer ball design. Smooth foosballs are made out of hard plastic but do not have the black and white soccer design. Balls that are made out of cork offer more bounce and speed and are commonly used in tables produced in Germany. Textured foosballs are made out of a unique urethane compound.
  • There are many different types of foosball table sizes, which is why the balls used in the game are also available in different sizes. Some balls used range in size from thirty-one millimeters to thirty-two millimeters. Typically, the standard ball measures in at thirty-eight millimeters. These are the regulation size balls that are commonly used in tournaments.
  • Foosball leagues have existed since the 1950s, however, foosball didn’t really catch on in America until the 1960s. The game’s growth in popularity was slow at first, until the 1972 tournament. Foosball tournaments became high profile and as time went on, more lucrative. By 1978, the game had risen to its peak in popularity. The tournament held that year offered a major cash prize.
  • The foosball crazed died down eventually, all thanks to the rise in video games during that time, especially the iconic game Pac-Man.

Final Thoughts

The history of foosball is very confusing in terms of who really invented it. Was it one of two French inventors? Was the inventor a European named Harold Searles Thornton, the man who held the first patent? We may never know who actually created foosball, a game that has remained popular for decades. There’s no doubt that foosball has a curious history where different people from all over the world had similar ideas of conceiving this game. What is indisputable is that foosball is a game that is here to stay. All over the country people continue to participate in tournaments, purchase foosball tables for home use, and it’s a game that can still commonly be found in pubs, bars, rec centers, and cafes. Essentially, foosball is a game that has withstood the test of time and continues to draw new players and fans each year.