Foosball History - Where and How it Started

Foosball History
Where and How it Started

Foosball History

Do you remember the first time you ever got to play Foosball? We've all encountered a Foosball table at least once in our lives, and, with no previous instruction on how to play, we all just inherently knew how the game worked.

Foosball is an exciting game that brings people together. It seems like an American tradition, but few people are aware that the roots of Foosball actually began overseas in Europe.

A Murky Beginning

Foosball is game that people of all ages and varying degrees of talent can play. Since its invention, millions of people have enjoyed playing Foosball, but its exact origins are a bit unclear. 

Famed inventor, Lucien Rosengart, claims to have invented the game as a way to entertain his child. 

Lucien Rosengart

Lucien Rosengart

Others argue that a soldier, Alexandre de Fisterra, thought of the game while he lay recovering in a hospital after suffering injuries while serving in the Spanish Civil War.

Some believe Alejandro Finisterre was the investor of Foosball

Alexandre de Fisterra


If You Snooze, You Lose

Whoever the actual inventor of Foosball will forever be lost in history as the official claim to this title belongs to Harold Searles Thornton. Thornton was a resident of the UK and patented the first Foosball table in 1923 (although some insist, he patented it in 1921).

Harold Searles Thornton Patent Application 1923

He claimed his inspiration came from a box of matches, although there were many similar types of playing tables circling the UK at this time. He says that he saw an open box of matches one day with loose matches balancing on top, each end hanging off the edge of the box.

Young players playing Foosball 1958

Rue des Archives / The Granger Collection, New York

What's With The Funny Name?

Another term for a Foosball table is table soccer, but why call it that when you have such a great name like Foosball? So, where did this name come from?

In Europe, soccer, which the game is modeled after, is called football. Harold Seamless Thornton claims that when he came up with the name, he simply removed the f and replaced it with the letter s for no rhyme or reason. 

However, it is more likely that the game was named after the German word for football, which is fussball. Perhaps Harold's story is real, and the similarities between the two names are just a coincidence.

What do you think?

Bringing Foosball To America

Louis P. Thornton, a resident of Portland, Oregon, is the uncle of the official founder of Foosball, Harold Searles Thornton. He came across one of his nephew's Foosball tables while visiting him in Europe.

Spotting a money-making opportunity, Louis Thorton stole his nephew's idea and brought it back to America. Talk about family rivalry, right?

In 1927, Louis Thorton patented the Foosball table In America, but, for whatever reason, it did not take off. Perhaps he had poor marketing skills? Or, maybe, with the Great Depression looming around the corner, people just did not have the time or money for a Foosball table.

Whatever the reason, the patent expired, and Louis Thorton became a footnote in history.

Foosball League America 1977

Foosball Leagues

The first official Foosball league was started by the Belgians in 1950. As foosball grew in popularity over the years, the European Table Soccer Union (ETSU) was formed in 1976.

This league helped bring players from across Europe together, but what about the rest of the world? It took some time, but in 2002, the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) was created, with their first meeting be held in Austria.

The ITSF was a considerable leap in the Foosball community for many reasons. The most apparent reason was that it brought players from around the world together.

The ITSF was also essential in creating a list of rules. Before 2002, Foosball had no official rules. Leagues and players simply made them up as they played. Even the sizes of Foosball tables weren't uniform.

Foosball Popularity America

Re-Introducing Foosball to America

While stationed in Germany in the early 1960s, American soldier Lawrence Patterson came across the fun game. Like Louis Thornton before him, he saw the popularity of the game and recognized a money-making opportunity. 

Peterson brought the idea back to America, trademarked the name Foosball, and hired someone to build a table. By 1962, America had its first Foosball table.

Meteoric Rise

Unlike Louis before him, Patterson saw immediate success with his Foosball tables. Throughout the 60s and 70s, people and businesses alike were both desperate to get their hands on the iconic game.

Patterson began by selling his Foosball to arcade halls, bars, and restaurants where they were coin-operated. These tables were so popular, though, that he soon no longer had to do any of the hard work himself.

By the 1980s, Patterson was franchising his Foosball tables.  People would pay a monthly fee to him for the guarantee they could place Foosball tables in specific areas.

Every Beginning Has An End

The Foosball table's meteoric rise in America was matched only by its failure. By the 80s and 90s, the Foosball craze had died, and people were no longer interested in playing the game.

Foosball tables in restaurants across America sat untouched, collecting dust. Many blame the rise in bright, flashy arcade games and eventually home video game systems as the reason for this. At the time, video games were so new that people were hooked on them.

The 1,000 tables Patterson was selling a month, crashed to a mere 100.

Foosball may have lost the shine commercially, but it's getting popular among home and offices. More and more people are buying Foosball tables for their home rec room or office break rooms. With availability in a wide number of sizes and different price ranges, Foosball is breaking into the gaming scene again.

From mini Foosball tables to regulation tables, there are plenty of options to choose from.

It's Not Over For Foosball

Despite losing its popularity over the decades, all is not lost for the Foosball table. In a world where technology consumes every moment of our lives, it's refreshing to be able to disconnect for a moment and play a game that doesn't involve blinding lights.

Foosball allows people to connect and interact in person, something that people have a new appreciation for. 

Playing Foosball enables you to meet people outside of the internet world. Next time you find yourself at a restaurant or bar with a Foosball table, shake the quarters out of your pockets, and play a round. You'll be surprised by the new friends you make and the amount of fun you'll have.

Check out history some of the other popular games:

Kevin James
 

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