Billiards The Transformation Years

In this article on the history of billiards we pick up the transformation years starting at the turn of the 19th century. After the cue itself, the next radical change to the game of billiards was the invention of the cue tip by Captain Mingaud, an imprisoned French soldier, in the early 1800's. Prior to this invention, leather had been used at the end of cue sticks. But these tips did little to have any effect at all on shot making. They were really just leather patches put in place to protect the wood itself. Nobody is exactly certain of the date Mingaud came up with his invention but it is estimated that it was sometime between 1807 and 1823.

The difference between his cue tips and the earlier ones was the radical effect it had on shot making with the "spin" that could be put on the ball. This allowed for more accuracy and control. Mingaud himself was a student of the physics of shot making.

He literally transformed the cue into a scientific instrument. By creating a hard backing, so that the tip could adhere to the surface of the cue, he reduced the pressure exerted on the wood. In addition to this an even distribution of force was created between the point of impact and the shaft of the cue.

But the biggest change was the cue tip itself. By rounding off the surface he increased the area of the tip that could put a rotation on the ball itself. So that when the ball was hit off center it created what is now called "english" or "backspin.

" This changed the game forever. As improvements to the cue were made, so were improvements made to the table. Other innovations also came about that radically changed the game from the construction of the tables to the improvements in cushions and balls to the invention of chalk. Also came about the fist tournaments and standardized rules for a variety of new forms of the game. Like the game itself, table improvements also came about slowly until the 1800s.

Even though the early tables that the monarchs used were beautiful to look at, functionally they were quite crude in comparison to our modern day versions. Early tables were constructed by cabinet workers. Because their beds were made of wood they warped easily within just a few years and structurally were not sturdy at all. The cushions were no more than just attached wooden rails which were unpadded until the 1600s.

Their function was simply to keep the balls in play after being struck. The newer pads added a strategic element to the game play. In 1826 England's John Thurston made a change in the way table beds were made, that would change the game forever. Because he was unhappy with the tendency of wood beds to warp he searched for a new material to make them from. Marble had been used on some tables with success but the cost just made it impractical.

He looked for something cheaper that was more readily available that would be used on every table that his company produced. We'll cover this radical improvement that changed the game forever as well as other improvements in our next article in this series. .

By: Michael Russell

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