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What are billiard balls made of? What do the numbers mean on them? Why are some colored a solid color, yet some have a stripe? Why are some bigger than others? How does a cue ball know where to go on a coin operated pool table? Amazing how many questions you can come up with regarding a simple billiard ball?
So let’s start off with the history of the billiard ball. The billiard ball dates back into the early 15th Century however it unknown exactly when the billiard table and billiard balls were actually invented. There are reports back as early as mid to late 1400’s of King Louis XI owning the first billiard table. The Duke of Norfolk is also said to have owned a billiard table along with the first documentation of owning billiard balls.
The earliest balls were made of wood. As the years went on different materials were being used to make them. Clay was popular, but a highly sought after material in the 19th Century was ivory. Elephants were being slaughtered at an alarming rate due to the high demand for their ivory. One tusk could yield 8. The billiard industry realized though that the elephants were becoming endangered so they came up with a challenge for inventors to come with a new material for them instead of ivory. John Wesley Hyatt invented a composition material in 1869 called nitrocellulose.(US patent 50359) However, this was not the first artificial substance invented. In 1867 Sorel cement was marketed as “artificial ivory”.
By 1870 Celluloid was branded the first industrial plastic. Unfortunately the nature of the celluloid made it volatile during production. Occasionally it is said that these balls would explode. Rumor has it one saloon owner in Colorado wrote a letter to John Hyatt saying that he didn’t mind the occasional exploding one but the fact that every patron pulled out their guns when they exploded.
Subsequently since the exploding ball seemed to be a slight problem, so the industry came up with different materials. Today they are made primarily of phenolic resin. Clear acrylic is also used.
Pool balls come in many different sizes.
- American Style Pool-57.15mm (2 1/4″)
- American Style Pool-(coin operated table) (2 3/8″)
- British Style Pool-56mm (2 3/16″)
- Snooker-52.5mm (2 1/15″)
- Carom-61.5mm (2 7/16″)
- Russian Pool /Kaisa-68mm (2 11/16″)
- Child’s Pool-51mm (2″)
They also come in different colors. Some sets they are numbered where others are not. They were originally numbered so “points” games could be played. Games such as 9-ball and 8-ball utilize the numbering system. The numbers on them dates back into the early 1900’s.
American Style Pool uses 15 numbered balls and are colored as listed below:
- Brown or Burgundy
- Yellow stripe
- Blue stripe
- Red stripe
- Purple stripe
- Orange stripe
- Green stripe
- Brown or Burgundy stripe
They are sometimes referred to “highs or lows” depending on their designated number. They are also referred to as either “stripes or solids”.
Snooker uses 22 balls in total. 15 are solid unmarked and colored red, there are also six colored ones and a white cue ball. They are numbered and colored as listed below
- There is no ball with the #1 designation.
- White cue (used for player 1)
- White or yellow cue with a spot (used for player 2)
Over the past several years a wide variety of novelty balls have come onto the market. You can now purchase billiard balls with your favorite sports team logo, cartoon characters, movie stars etc on them. There are also glow-in-the-dark balls, marble balls, practical joke balls (never roll straight), weighted balls and even playing card balls!
Magnetic and Oversized Cue Balls
Ever wonder how does a cue ball return to the player on a coin operated table? How come it just doesn’t go with the rest of the balls? Well there are two different reasons; either it’s an oversized cue ball or it is a magnetic cue ball. An oversized ball is just that, oversized slightly. When the ball drops down into the pocket, there are two tracks that the ball can go down, the oversized ball cannot go down the track intended for the smaller balls. A magnetic cue ball works by triggering a magnetic detector.
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write by Olwen