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Shuffleboard History

Back in 15th Century England, folks played a game of sliding a "groat" (a large British coin of the day worth about four pence) down a table. The game was called shove groat and/or slide groat. Later, a silver penny was used and the name of the game became shove-penny and/or shovel-penny. The game was played by the young and old, and was a favorite pastime in the great country houses of Staffordshire, Winchester and Wiltshire.

While our Founding Fathers were busy putting together the makings of this great country, there were big shuffleboard matches being conducted throughout the colonies. Shuffleboard was popular among the English soldiers as well as the colonists.

In his play, The Crucible," concerning the historic witch trials of Salem, Mass., Arthur Miller wrote: In 1692, there was a good supply of ne’er-do-wells who dallied at the shuffleboard in Bridget Bishop’s Tavern." That item provides a written record of the entrance of the game into the New World.

The fame of the game spread, and soon it came upon the public scene in more ways that one. In 1848, in New Hanover, Pennsylvania, a case of "The State vs. John Bishop" to decide the question, "Is shuffleboard a game of chance or a game of skill?" Came up for trail. The judge ruled thus:

"Though the defendant kept a public gaming table, as charged, and though diverse persons played thereat and bet spirituous liquors on the game, the game was not a game of chance, but was altogether a game of skill."

The game shed its crude beginnings when American cabinetmakers such as Hepplewhite and Duncan Phyfe turned out some of their finest inlaid cabinet work on shuffleboard game tables for the wealthy homes of New York City.

By 1897, table shuffleboard rated as much space in the metropolitan newspapers in the New York City area as prizefighting and baseball. Highly publicized tournaments played by such colorful characters as "Big Ed’ Morris, Dave Wiley, Alex Scott, Ed Gardland, and George Lavender drew hordes of fans. The fans faithfully followed the players to tournaments in New York City, Newark, Paterson, Hoboken, Jersey City and Bloomfield, New Jersey, and even into Philadelphia. The fans included important figures of the business, theatrical, and political worlds.

Shuffleboard made its was across the country. In 1904, Gentleman Jim Corbett, an avid player, had a tavern owner named Croll install a table in his Alamedia, California, pub. "Doc" Croll, his son, claimed it was the first shuffleboard in that part of the country.

World War II opened the "Swinging Forties" and shuffleboard really came into its own. The intrinsic appeal of the game – skill, diversity, competitiveness, availability to young and old, strong and disabled, the serious game, the fun game, offered the kind of release needed in those turbulent years.

Hollywood climbed on the shuffleboard bandwagon and took it up, at first, as a source of good publicity. Then when the pin-up girls and bandleaders and actors discovered they really liked the game, shuffleboards found their way into the studios and homes of the stars. People like Betty Grable, Harry James, Merv Griffin, Alan Ladd; all had their own shuffleboards.

Shuffleboard grew to its greatest height in the 1950s. Most major shuffleboard manufactures sponsored nationwide shuffleboard tournaments. These were the biggest tournaments ever held; one had 576 teams participating.

Fierce competition among major manufactures and suppliers, lack of uniform rules and organization, the inability to gain sponsorship of the sport, and general internal strife in all facets of shuffleboard, led to a demise of the game in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some feared it was damaged beyond "repair," but others invested their time, efforts and talents to breath life into the sport that they had loved. That dedication paid off, by the mid-‘80s, shuffleboard experienced a revival, a revival that has extended and strengthened in the ‘90s.

While organization, cooperation and communication have been key elements in the revival of shuffleboard; probably the most important factor has been an almost universal realization in The World of Shuffleboard that new young shooters will be the continued lifelines of the sport. Across the nation, established shooters have made it their top priority to help novice players develop their talents and nurture their enthusiasm for league and tournament play. As long as that remains a priority, shuffleboard will continue to grow.

One major accomplishment in this decade was the establishment of a National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame in 1995. Since then, several states have formed state or area shuffleboard Halls of Fame. Often, those who have been honored by their respective states are then nominated for induction into the National Hall of Fame.

To date, 12 people have been inducted into the National Hall of Fame: (California) PeeWee Ramos, Bob Miles, Billy Chiles; (Oklahoma) Bill Melton, Glen Davidson; (New Jersey) Mickey Mickens, Sol Lipkin; (Texas) Earl Kelly; (Nebraska) Denny Busch; (Pacific Northwest) Jim Foran. Several others are currently going through the nomination process. It is the NSHF’s goal to recognize excellence for all deserving participants in The World of Shuffleboard and to finance a "home" for preserving the history of shuffleboard so that generation to follow will have a knowledge of and appreciation for that history.

*Information provided by the American Shuffleboard Company, The Phil-American Shuffleboard Company, and The Board Talk



Excerpt/Reprint from
TAVERN SPORTS International
JUNE/JULY 1989 Issue, page 4
By Joe Falvey


All sports have unique histories, but few, if any, have been as affected by political and international events as shuffleboard.

Now, to research shuffleboard you don't exactly go to your 'Funk & Wagnalls' and find everything neatly compiled. So, in lieu of that, you do the next best thing -- you call Sol Lipkin. Sol's name may not come up when people are talking about the great players of the game, but if he isn't "the father of modern shuffleboard" in this country, then no one is! No one has -- or ever will -- love the game more than Sol. He's played, promoted and been involved in the manufacturing of shuffleboard for over 60 years. Even today (at age 83) he is still actively involved with the American Shuffleboard Co., in Union City, N.J.

True shuffleboard -- first called shoveboard and then, inexplicably, shovelboard -- seems to have orginated in England, where there is a record of its being played in 1532, and in its earliest form consisted of shoving coins across a polished tabletop as a pasttime for royalty. But the game became so popular with the masses that people stopped going to work, causing it to be banned. Shuffleboard first came to the United States around the time of the Civil War and enjoyed tremendous growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, the great hotels in Atlantic City and all the first-class hotels in the East had five or six tables right through the Roaring '20s.

Then came Prohibition. Speakeasys didn't need or want games of skill. They had been assured of all they needed to be successful in their businesses by the U.S. Congress. It was during this eight- to 10-year period that shuffleboard began to decline. Following the repeal of Prohibition, pockets of shuffleboard players began to reappear, largely on the East Coast. And the tavern industry began to change. All the bars before Prohibition had backrooms with small restaurants. But on the heels of the Great Depression, people didn't have the money to go out to eat. Gradually, some backrooms were converted to shuffleboard areas.

"It brought the people out. We were selling boards at that time for $149," said Sol, who also became a promoter. "We would set up a match (sometimes played to 75 points) and pack the place. "People would stay all day long." Leagues began to form and shuffleboard was on the move again.

With World War II, men from all across the country were routed through New York and the Northeast on their way to Europe. As a result, shuffleboard went national after the war, with soldiers bringing a love of the game back home with them. Over the next few years more than 100 companies started manufacturing boards because of the demand. The original boards were 32 feet long, but were shortened to 28 and then to 22 feet because how they were packed and shipped nationally. The weights went from heavy brass to the streamlined stainless steel of today. Sand, used to speed the boards, evolved into fine corn and silicone waxes. Regional tournaments began to take place everywhere and the first national event was held at the Armory in Springfield, Ill., in 1948, with 574 taverns represented by l0-man teams. By the mid-1950s, shuffleboard had jumped into the foreground. They were on military bases, in fraternal clubs, rehabilitation hospitals, youth clubs, town centers, seniors centers and taverns everywhere.

But despite all this popularity, the shufffleboard movement lacked a couple of key ingredients. Not having consistent rules or amateur events created a lot of in-fighting among the leaders and manufacturers. And problems couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. It was the dawn of the electronic game age. However, a very strong grassroots group of players kept the sport alive. As Sol Lipkin says: "It's the game that makes shuffleboard great." That has remained constant.

Shuffleboard has made a strong, steady climb back through this decade. This time it appears things will be different. Now, there are national rules and sanctioning; media exposure; and a policy board of professional players. Interested sponsors.

Shuffleboard finally has come full circle. A 100-percent increase in participation. New manufacturers. More than one million shuffleboards are in use. New leagues are springing up everywhere. Despite a long and sometimes bumpy history, the game has endured. Fifty or 100 years from now the "new history" will show that in the late 1980s and '90s the sport used lessons of the past and wisdom of people like Sol Lipkin to keep it growing for many, many years to come."

(Reprint, Tavern Sports, June/July 1989)