Dakota Datebook

The Ping Pong Craze Arrived in Grand Forks, 1902

Friday, April 18, 2014

 

Ping-pong sounds like the game itself. The small celluloid ball “pings” from the paddle and “pongs” off the table.

Ping-pong, also called table tennis, started as a ripple in England and reached America in a frenzied wave in 1902, a game everyone just had to have.    The craze came just after the bicycle vogue of the 1890s. A newspaper advertisement on this date in 1902 described ping-pong as the “most popular means of enjoyment and entertainment . . . . [that] can be played on any dining-room table” by young and old alike.

“The ping-pong craze has finally reached Grand Forks,” announced the Herald newspaper in two “As You Like It” society-page columns that April. Several prominent families, including the Engstads and the Griffiths, already owned a set and “any number [had] sent in an order for one,” but the “rage for the game all over the country” left manufacturers struggling to make enough equipment to “supply the demand.”

People loved ping-pong because they got indoor exercise and plenty of fun social interaction. Ping-pong was inexpensive – for “Ping-pong sets with burnt-wood rackets” could be bought at the local Ontario Store “for eighty-nine cents.”

All it took to play Ping-Pong was a net stretched between two wooden pegs attached to the middle of the table; a ball, and two rackets covered with vellum parchment.  A good-sized dining-room table instantly became an indoor sports arena.

The celluloid Ping-Pong balls were “very light . . . like . . . birds’ eggs” with “no possibility of their breaking . . . anything they [might] strike” in the dining room. The greatest difficulty was finding stray Ping-Pong balls “hiding in dark shadows” under furniture.

“Ping-pong parties” became the rage for young ladies; and young men held tournaments.  Within a year, the Dacotah Hotel and the Pioneer Club opened Ping-Pong rooms and the Y.M.C.A. got a table. Ping-Pong’s popularity spread to Bismarck by July and to Minot by August. At Christmas-time, advertisements for Ping-Pong sets, priced from 50 cents to $5, proliferated.

Oddly, the Ping-Pong craze diminished by 1904, and echoes of “ping” and “pong” in dining-rooms seemingly went silent.  However, Ping-Pong came back in a late-1920s revival, and, in the present day, reverberations of “pinging” backhands and “ponging” forehands still resonate from green-topped factory-made tables in family rooms across North Dakota.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources:  “Advertisement, Ping Pong Sets or Table Tennis,” Minneapolis Journal, April 18, 1902, p. 5.

“As You Like It,” Grand Forks Herald, April 20, 1902, p. 2; “As You Like It,” Grand Forks Herald, April 6, 1902, p. 5; “As You Like It,” Grand Forks Herald, May 4, 1902, p. 2.

“Ping-Pong,” St. Paul Globe, April 6, 1902, p. 23.

“Ping-Pong,” New York Tribune, January 5, 1902, p. 2.

“Daft on Ping-Pong,” St. Paul Globe, May 25, 1902, p. 21.

“Nubs of News,” Grand Forks Herald, August 9, 1902.

“Ping Pong Tournament,” Grand Forks Herald, August 19, 1902, p. 4.

“Ping Pong Party,” Grand Forks Herald, November 14, 1902.

Advertisement, “Ping Pong Sets, Ontario Store,” November 25, 1902, p. 6; Advertisement “Capital Book Store,” Bismarck Tribune, December 10, 1902, p. 3.

“Ping-Pong Entertainment,” Bismarck Tribune, January 6, 1903, p. 3.

“Y.M.C.A. Gym Classes,” Grand Forks Herald, January 7, 1903, p. 6.

“A Ping Pong Era is Upon Us; Revival of Ping-Pong,” New York Times, March 23, 1930, p. SM8.

Robert Strauss, “Differences in Table Tennis and Ping-Pong Pride,” New York Times, January 28, 2001.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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