25 Facts About Table Tennis

It’s one of those games that can be played just about anywhere.

What started as a leisurely game on a dinner table became a worldwide phenomenon and even an Olympic sport.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about table tennis.

1. Was table tennis based on another form of tennis?

Jeu de Paume, the predecessor of the modern game of tennis, has been played since the Middle Ages (at least the 12th century) in Northern France.

The big difference with modern-day tennis is that it was played with the hands instead of rackets.

Jeu de Paume eventually turned into lawn tennis, and since these games had been around for hundreds of years, it was only a matter of time before table tennis would spread worldwide.

Jeu de paume
A medieval engraving of the first forms of tennis / Wiki Commons

2. Nobody is credited with its invention

Unlike other popular sports such as basketball (James Naismith) or volleyball (William George Morgan), table tennis doesn’t really have an “inventor.”

At least with tennis, we know that the modern game started in England and we know that two friends named Harry Gem and his Spanish friend Agurio Perera were the first to play the game in 1859.

Table tennis seems to have just started and evolved into the popular game it is today without a real starting point.

Naismith basketball
Basketball had, unlike table tennis, an inventor named James Naismith / Wiki Commons

3. It became popular in Victorian England

We first need to remind you that lawn tennis was a game for the nobility in the Victorian Era, this before it became available to the wider public when tennis clubs started opening their doors in the 1870s.

In fact, it originated as a “royal game” and was played by just about every king in every palace in Europe for centuries.

Table tennis is believed to have originated in upper-class circles as a parlor game when it was too cold outside to play lawn tennis.

4. There weren’t any nets and bats initially

While it might have been beer or wine bottles (that’s just our guess), it’s more likely that the first improvised nets were actually a row of books placed in the middle of the dinner table.

When it came to rackets, people didn’t actually use table tennis rackets back then, but rather a thin book or an empty cigar box.

Table tennis in the early 20th century
Table tennis in the early 20th century

5. They used balls from another sport

Since table tennis was merely an after-dinner pass time for the upper-class, there wasn’t any real equipment out there.

So to have a ball to play the game with, they improvised as well and simply used golf balls.

Clearly, these were way too heavy, but they had to roll with what they had at that time.

6. Table tennis might have been imported to India

Another version of the history of table tennis is that it was first played by English military officers in India in the 1860s or 1870s. This was the same period that modern-day tennis started to get spread as well.

They then subsequently brought the game back to England where it gained widespread traction as well.

7. Did you say table tennis?

The game has been called a lot of things such as “whiff whaff,” “Pom-Pom, “Gossima,” Pim-Pam, “Ping-Pong” and a lot of other names.

In fact, it almost had as many names as rapper P. Diddy! Almost, that is.

8. The one smart thing to do was this

John Jaques & Son Ltd, the oldest sports goods manufacturer in England (dating back to 1795!) was the first to acquire a patent for the name “Ping-Pong,” the only variation of the name for the game that really stuck.

The owner of the company back then patented the name in 1901 which helped to commercialize the game.

9. Ping-Pong became the “New Table Game”

The obvious reason to patent the name of the game is to be able to sell merchandise, which in return made the game spread all over the world.

It was sold in a box containing 2 bats, a net and tools to attach it to a table, a ball, and an instruction manual created by the company.

Jacques of london ping pong

10. Other companies were forced to use the other term

Because the name “Ping-Pong” was now a trademark, it wasn’t allowed to be used by anybody else anymore, including associations that already used this popular name.

Everybody else was suddenly forced to use “table tennis.”

11. The same happened in the United States

J. Jaques & Son Ltd. ended up selling the rights to the trademark to the parker Brothers company in the United States.

The results were pretty much the same. Everybody that used “Ping-Pong” as an official name was forced to start using “table tennis,” plus they started selling a similar box set which spread the game amongst the public.

Parker brothers ping pong set
Parker Brothers set / Daniel Schwen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

12. There was an earlier version though

One of those interesting facts about table tennis is that there were actually many people trying to patent the game.

One earlier version was that of David Foster, who created a game that resembled table tennis, but was in fact a small version of lawn tennis. He patented this game back in 1890.

The game also allowed playing football and cricket!

David foster lawn tennis

13. This was the most important invention

What would table tennis be without the light ball to play with?

It wasn’t until 1901 that James W. Gibb, a British enthusiast of the game, discovered the perfectly suited ball to play table tennis in the United States.

He brought some of the celluloid balls with them to England and the game soon had its final version of a ball, replacing the balls made of solid material such as rubber or cork.

facts about table tennis

14. The rackets got an upgrade as well

Before 1901, the game was played with wooden rackets. In 1901, E.C. Goode invented something that would change the game forever.

Instead of playing the game with a wooden blade, he actually attached pieces of rubber to it which effectively made the bats look the same as they do right now.

That was a serious upgrade that skyrocketed the popularity of table tennis!

table tennis facts

15. Two associations are formed in 1901

To prove that the game was gaining serious traction, the first associations were being formed which happened on December 12, 1901.

Unsurprisingly, the first one was called the “Table Tennis Association,” followed by the “Ping Pong Association” just 4 days later.

16. Both associations didn’t have a long life

In 1903, both associations actually joined forces and became the “The United Table Tennis and Ping Pong Association.”

It wasn’t to be, as it ceased to exist in 1904.

17. The ITTF was formed in 1926

Just like any other major sport in the world, table tennis has its own governing body which oversees the rules and regulations and organizes international events and tournaments.

The ITTF was formed 5 years after “Table Tennis England,” the governing body of table tennis in the UK, and 7 years before “USA Table Tennis,” the governing body in the United States.

Table tennis tournament / Peter Porai-Koshits / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

18. The first World Championships were held the same year

And where else than in London would the ITTF organize the first World Championship table tennis in 1926?

Interesting fact: Hungary won all individual and team gold medals in the first edition!

19. Table tennis became popular in China

It wasn’t until the 1930s that the Chinese population really began enjoying the game of table tennis.

Edgar Snow, an American writer, and journalist wrote about this in his book “Red Star Over China,” in which he commented that “Chinese communist forces started to enjoy the English game of table tennis.”

20. It’s the national sport in China

The ITTF made a bold move in the 1950s by recognizing the Chinese Communist government. The Chinese already liked Table Tennis for a few decades by then.

This was reason enough for Mao Zedong himself to declare table tennis the national sport in the country, and put in a lot of effort to increase the game’s popularity further.

Perhaps he liked the game so much himself?

Mao Zedong playing table tennis / Wiki Commons

21. The opposite happened in the Soviet Union

Instead of embracing the sport like what happened in China, the Soviet Union did the complete opposite.

It banned table tennis from 1930 until 1950. The reason? They claimed it was bad for the eyes.

Ever since Russians haven’t really embraced the game.

22. The 1950s saw an invention that changed the game forever

The reason was that the underlying layer of the bats was changed from being wood to being a sponge, which dramatically increased the speed of the game.

On top of that, this allowed players to use the spin, which basically changed the way the game was played completely as well.

facts about table tennis

23. Table tennis became an Olympic sport

The first time that table tennis was included as a full medal sport in the Olympics happened in Seoul in 1988.

There are a total of 4 events for men and women, doubles and singles. the gold medals were evenly divided between South Korea and China the first time table tennis was featured.

24. China dominates table tennis, but the best player ever isn’t Chinese

With millions of Chinese players competing to become the best player, it’s not surprising that this country dominates the sport.

The best table tennis player in history, however, is arguably not Chinese, but Swedish. Jan-Ove Waldner is considered to be the best table tennis player of all time and is even nicknamed the “Mozart of table tennis.”

You can see why in the video below:

25. It’s one of the most played games in the world

What started as a parlor game for the upper-class in Victorian England has become one of the most popular sports in the world.

So much that it has been included in our list of most played sports in the world as the ITTF estimates that there are over 300 million people that play the game at least once a month.

This makes table tennis the 4th most popular sport in the world by participation!

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