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,
True shuffleboard -- first called shoveboard and then, inexplicably,
shovelboard -- seems to have originated 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 pastime 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. Speakeasies 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
"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 shuffleboard 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.
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)