(Image credit: © Jorge Royan/http://www.royan.com.ar/
Why is the game of pool so popular? Besides being fun, perhaps the reason lies in it's class-less nature. Much like horse racing, the sport is enjoyed by both the rich and the poor, by commoners and kings alike.
The original game of pool evolved from a lawn game that was popular with old world kings in the 14th century. A hundred years later, a man (who was probably French), created a flat table so he could play indoors. The table was given a green cloth cover to represent the green of grass. The sides of the table were raised and were called "banks" because they resembled banks of the river.
The original objects used to hit the balls were actually mace-like clubs. The maces were held backward and the back end was used to hit the balls. These mace sticks later evolved into "cue sticks.”
The inventor of the leather cue tip, Captain Mingaud, was imprisoned during the French Revolution for political reasons. He became obsessed with the game of pool and actually managed to get a table installed in his prison cell. Mingaud perfected his invention during his incarceration and actually asked for more prison time, so as to complete his studies.
According to Brunswick Billiards, the first recorded instance of someone owning a pool table was in 1470, when a palace inventory included a table owned by King Louis XI of France. The table included a bed of stone, a cloth covering, and a hole right in the middle. During the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI delighted in the game and played one another on the eve of their imprisonment.
William Shakespeare mentioned the game in the 17th century in a reference in act II scene V of Antony and Cleopatra.
The separate head and body of Mary Queen of Scots was entombed in the cloth of her beloved pool table.
According to Brunswick Billiards, George Washington won a game of pool in 1748.
John Quincy Adams installed a pool table in his presidential quarters in 1828.
Thomas Jefferson had a secret billiards room at Monticello.
Abraham Lincoln extolled pool as "a scientific game lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind.”
Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller both enjoyed the game. Mark Twain was an excellent billiards player. W.C. Fields was reputedly the greatest "trick pool" shooting artist of all-time.
Legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats claimed to have shot pool once with Adolf Hitler. And incidentally, Minnesota Fats was not from Minnesota, he was originally from New York.
The game of pool attracts "hustlers" more than almost any sport or game, because a fairly skilled player can easily fake bad luck and cause a seemingly well-hit ball to pop out of the pocket.
It is reputed that during the filming of the wonderful pool movie The Hustler (1961), Jackie Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats, did all his own pool shooting. Before filming The Hustler, Paul Newman had never shot pool in his life. After he was hired for the film, he practiced every day for weeks to learn the game.
During the filming of the movie, Gleason and Newman played pool for $100 and Gleason won. Paul Newman paid off the $100 bet in pennies.
Willie Mosconi, reputedly the greatest pool player of all-time, holds the all-time record for consecutive shots without a miss. Willie once had an incredible run of 526 in a row without missing. Mosconi can be glimpsed in The Hustler in a brief cameo. He plays the guy who holds the stake money in the pool match.