Inside an American Phenomenon

By Drew Davis

When I think of bowling a few icons spring to mind: The Flintstones, and The Honeymooners, Stanley Kowalski (from A Streetcar Named Desire) and (my favorite) The Big Lebowski. Bowling, especially league bowling is a blue-collar touchstone.  Blitz Weekly’s very own Mark Miller’s new book, Bowling, America’s Greatest Indoor Pastime, tackles the history and evolution of bowling sans celebrating the pop culture characters that made the sport hold a special place in our psyche.

The 63-page book is packed with interesting trivia, including: bowling as a religious test, different pin counts and styles of bowling, even bowling’s ancient roots.  The book begins to pick up a narrative when Miller turns his attention to bowling in the United States.  Bowling’s 1950’s technological revolution gave it the look we know today with overhead scoring and automatic pinsetters (previously pin boys reset the pins – thought you have a bad job?).  At about the same time, televised coverage of bowling converged with professional beer leagues (sponsored by beer companies) to cement bowling’s image in popular culture.

The struggle for racial and gender equality in bowling are (rightly) prominently highlighted.  In the middle of the 19th century, bowling moved indoors, making it a socially acceptable sport for Victorian-era women.  More than just a rare victory for women’s equality, women helped to mainstream the sport by eliminating gambling and spittoons.

Miller ends on a strong note – while acknowledging that participation in league bowling has been in decline recently, he provides hope for a resurgence. Bowling is the fastest growing high school sport in the United States.  Miller speculates about the tectonic impact of bowling being added as an Olympic sport someday.  Ending on a rosy note for the Metroplex he highlights the state of the art International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame right here in Arlington.

Although Fred, Barney and the “Dude” were noticeably absent, Mark picks up the spare by exposing the surprising evolution of bowling as a sport.