Ping-Pong Is a Craze (1902)
(From the Washington D.C. Suburban Citizen – May 3, 1902)
Has Invaded All Sorts of Places from Clubs to Hotels
One Factory is Turning Out a Thousand Sets a Day – The Passion for the Sport has Grown Up Suddenly – Picturesque Language for Game Terms
In the past few days persons walking through the quiet uptown streets have remarked about the number of houses through whose open windows came the staccato “ping! pong!” of the xylonite “table tennis” ball. According to the stories which are told by dealers in sporting goods, thousands of sets of this game have been sold to families in the city, and the demand appears to be increasing.
One factory at Chicopee Falls alone is turning out 1000 sets daily, and is far behind its orders. Ping-pong outfits are going in numbers now to suburban golf clubs. It shows what a hold the sport has taken on its devotees that even the golfing enthusiast must take his ping-pong to the links with him.
“Our greatest demand for complete sets, including the regulation tables, has, of course, come from the clubs,” said a dealer yesterday. “But the women and children have got the fever as bad as the brothers and fathers. If you’re writing about the ping-pong craze you can’t make it too strong. So far as I know we haven’t sold a set to any old ladies’ home yet, but I dare say the game will reach them in time. This craze beats anything I ever heard of. Our belief is that it’s only beginning. Hot weather may affect our sales somewhat but we look for an increased demand next fall.
“Our indoor putting green in the back of the store has been occupied by a ping-pong table for several weeks. Lots of people who never saw the game come in here and watch a few sets, get fascinated by the play and end up buying racquets and balls and a net to take home and set up on their dining room or billiard table. There’s a game going on here almost every hour of the day. People can’t seem to get enough of it.”
The clubs have been and are still the stronghold of the craze, although the newspapers have had more to say about the play in brokers’ offices and on ocean steamers. So sudden has been the passion for the sport, and so much room does the regulation table take up that most of the clubs have had to give up some other sport, in whole or in part, for a time, or else sacrifice part of their dining room space. Nobody seems to object, however. Even the most sedate of club loungers, although he may begin by scoffing at the “child’s play,” ends in becoming either an enthusiast or a disappointed but persistent “duffer.”
College clubs or other clubs frequented by younger men are the worst sufferers from the ping-pong malady. The Harvard Club, early in the winter, put up the little nets on its billiard tables, and billiards have scarcely been played their since. Members pay the same amount per hour for playing ping-pong that they formerly were charged for the use of the billiard tables. The club has since set up, in addition, a real ping-pong board. The Yale Club has four tables in one of the class dining rooms on the ninth floor. The Cornell University Club gives up half its dining room to the pasttime, and the House Committee now talks of letting the whole apartment be used for it, so many of the members want to play; and ping-pong tables can be used as dining tables, if it takes too long to make the change. In a Brooklyn athletic club the ping-pongers have invaded the handball court. Most of these resorts have had or are having ping-pong tournaments, and clever players have been developed in the course of a few weeks.
Boarding houses in all parts of town have been hard hit by the craze. The long table in the back parlor makes a good ping-pong board, and the young man in the hall bedroom two flights up takes delight in making the star boarder look like thirty cents. The landladies are not enthusiastic over the game, because when played in the evening it has a tendency to develop a robust appetite for late suppers.
The vernacular of the sport has not yet reached a high degree of development. For the present, as is the case with any new game, players make free with words and phrases proper to other branches of sport. Expressions like “You dealt ‘em the last time,” “This cue is rotten,” “Off side” are heard around the board. Picturesque language of a different character is also common. The elusive celluloid sphere is as conducive to profanity as the gutta percha. A well-known lawn tennis player has a novelty in the way of ping-pong profanity. When he makes a fault he shouts “Fudge!” or “Goodness gracious!” He explains that he learned the game by playing with his sisters, and it isn’t worth cussin’ about anyway.