The sport of Table Tennis, or "Ping-Pong" as it is sometimes known, has an interesting history that began in Victorian-era England. After dinner, families would clear the dining room Table and construct a line of books down the centre to use as a net. The idea was to mimic the layout of the traditional Lawn Tennis playing field on an indoor table.
Table Tennis paddles at this time were actually no more than thick parchment paper wrapped around a simple wooden frame. The Table Tennis ball could be made of either rubber, string, or in some instances, a champagne cork.
At this point, Table Tennis was very much a past time for the upper-middle-class, and the game was known by many different names, including "Gossamer," "Flim Flam," and "Whif Whaf," all of which were said to describe the "swooshing" sound of the ball moving back and forth on the Tabletop.
Another common name for the game was "Ping-Pong," and in 1901, J. Jaques & Son Ltd registered this name with the English copyright office. The company subsequently sold the trademarked name to the Parker Brothers Company in the United States where the name "Ping-Pong" quickly became synonymous with Table Tennis.
In the early 1900s, Table Tennis players began using celluloid balls, and English manufacturer E. C. Goode began producing Table Tennis "blades," as the paddles or rackets were called at that time. These early Table Tennis rackets were made of light wood with a protruded rubber cover to provide a better grip and more accurate ball control.
By the 1930s, Table Tennis had become popular throughout the Western world. The game began to be accepted as a legitimate sport, with a regulating body (The International Table Tennis Federation) and organised world championship competitions.
Up until this point, Table Tennis had not caught fire in the East, but by the late 1930s British army officers had transplanted the sport to their posts in Eastern nations such as China, Korea and Japan. But even though the Asian countries were slow to begin playing Table Tennis, by the 1960's Table Tennis competitors from Japan and Korea began dominating the sport.
During this time, the first foam rubber Table Tennis paddles were introduced by Japanese player Horoi Satoh. The new light wood and foam rubber design increased the speed of Table Tennis significantly, and made it possible to control the ball by mastering various "spins." This was really the beginning of modern Table Tennis as it is played today
In the 1980s, the Chinese also began to be a major force within the sport of Table Tennis, and Chinese competitors dominated the world championships for many years. In fact, for many years, all of the world champions were from the East, with only a few Eastern European and Scandinavian countries raising any serious competition to the Asian competitors.
Table Tennis, or Ping-Pong, has even played an important role in international diplomacy. In 1971, the United States Olympic Table Tennis team was invited to tour China, making them the first group of Americans allowed to enter the country after the Communist revolution of 1949.
The visit by the US Table Tennis team was seen as a subtle "thawing" of the previously icy relationship between China and the United States. Just a few weeks after this initial "Ping-Pong visit," President Richard Nixon became the first Western leader to officially visit China since the Communist takeover.
The history of Table Tennis shows it to be a truly international sport, with the power to bring people together in a profound way -- even quarrelling nations on opposite sides of the world.