Howard Cosell interviews Minessota Fats and Willie Mosconi during the pocket billiards match held in Vegas in 1978
photo: Howard Cosell interviews Minessota Fats and Willie Mosconi during the pocket billiards match held in Vegas in 1978

A short history

Pocket billiards can be traced back to the 1500s at least, and probably began with European aristocracy. From there it quickly spread to public rooms and the working class. It wasn't long afterwards that the first hustlers appeared.
  
Pool was brought to America with the first colonialists, with Virginia explorer William Byrd having once famously laid his wife on a pool table. Other noteworthy pool enthusiasts include George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Pool tables were installed in the White House and at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation.

Pool was especially popular in this country during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During the early part of the 20th Century, straight pool took hold, and some of the greatest practictioners played this variety of the game. They include Ralph Greenleaf and Willie Mosconi. Hustlers like Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red and Minnesota Fats preferred other games like one-pocket and nine-ball. Eight ball is a popular bar game that probably took root because of the decline of straight pool and the introduction of smaller coin-operated tables in the 1950s.

The release of the 20th Century Fox film, The Hustler, reinvigorated the sport during  the 1960s. The sport got another boost during the late 70s with a series of televised matches between Minnesota Fats and Willie Mosconi. In the 80s, The Color of Money, a sequel to The Hustler, gave the game another shot in the arm.

Pool historically has been a male dominated sport, although that has changed dramatically over the last two decades. Today, some of the most well known players in America are women, and women's professional events are a staple of cable sports channels.

Pool history

More books on pool history

Online historical videos

Other resources