Table tennis evolved first in China and eventually moved to Europe, and then the United States. Some say “Ping-Pang” was the first name of the game because it sounded like the words spoken in the Chinese language in the 7th Century, which later evolved to “Ping Pong.” By the 8th Century, the game began to spread to India, Persia and ultimately to the West. These early games were played by hitting a dried Chinese fruit called a lichee.
Others say that the sound heard when playing ping pong on European rackets (made of pieces of paper stretched on a frame) resulted first in the nickname of “Whiff-Whaff” and later “Ping-Pong.” In Europe many people believe ping pong was invented by army officers who used rounded wine corks for balls and old cigar boxes as paddles. Ping pong remained popular as a party game for rich people in England until it officially became a competitive sport in 1927.
Eventually, the popularity of ping pong in Europe led game manufacturers to sell ping pong equipment commercially, at first under the name “Gossima.” But the name “Ping-Pong” was already widely used before English manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd. formalized it in 1901. Jaques & Son eventually sold the rights of the “Ping-Pong” name to the American company Parker Brothers.
James Gibb, an English enthusiast of the game, discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the U.S. in and found them to be the ideal balls for the game. In the 1950s, a plastic balls were mass produced and table tennis exploded in world wide popularity, especially in Asia, where countries like China and South Korea have produced most of the top players in the world. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, in America the majority of people played ping pong in their homes — in attics or basement recreation rooms. Table tennis attracts larger followings in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Germany. In comparison with sports like golf or baseball, it is inexpensive.
As ping pong’s popularity has grown, changes have been made to tournament rules to make ping pong’s rapid game play more accessible to spectators. This back-and-forth sport has a ball that travels up to 100 miles per hour. In 2000, the International Table Tennis Federation changed the official size of ping pong balls from 38 mm to 40 mm to slow the action, and games were reduced from 21 points to 11 points to make them more exciting. Players are also no longer permitted to hide the ball in their palm during service.
Ping pong played a large role in the development of arcade games and the personal computer. Atari’s Pong, a ping pong game released in 1972, was the first video game to achieve significant commercial success. Home and arcade versions of Pong helped make electronic ping pong the gaming phenomenon of the 1970s, which was a good decade for ping pong. In April, 1971, nine American ping pong players spent a week in China playing exhibition matches against the best Chinese ping pong players. This “ping pong diplomacy” paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s historic visit 10 months later.
Ping pong has since become the largest participation sport in the world, according to the International Olympic Committee, which made ping pong an official Olympic game in 1988 in Seoul. Today, over 40 million people play ping pong competitively worldwide.