From its earliest days, billiards has been enjoyed by a
host of colorful (and controversial) figures. The game's
history is replete with historic legends and characters;
from monarchs and presidents, scholars and artists, to the
legendary players and inventors, that forever changed the
face of the game.
WILLIE HOPPE - "The King" (b.
Oct. 11, 1887, Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY d. Feb. 1, 1959)
by many to be the greatest all-around billiard player of
any era. Won his first world title at the age of eighteen.
For over twenty years, his successes were so numerous, to
many fans, "Billiards" simply meant "Willie
Hoppe." Won world titles in 18.1 and 18.2 Balkine,
as well as the Cushion Carom world title. When Balkine was
replaced by Three-Cushion Billiards as the championship
game, Hoppe merely retooled his game. Between 1936 and 1952,
he won the World Three-Cushion title eleven times.
Hoppe won the world 18.1 balkline championship by beating
Maurice Vignaux of France on January 15, 1906. He also held
that title in 1908, from 1909 through 1911, and from 1914
through 1926. After losing the championship to Jake Schaefer
Jr. in 1926, Hoppe regained it in 1927, the last year competition
took place in that form of billiards.
The world 18.2 balkline champion in 1907, from 1910 through
1920, from 1923 through 1924, and in 1927, Hoppe began concentrating
on three-cushion billiards in the 1930s. He won world championships
in 1936, from 1940 through 1944, and from 1947 until his
retirement in 1952.
Many of Hoppe's records still stand, including an unbelievable
run of 622 in 18.2 balkline during an exhibition in 1912.
He set records with runs of 20 points in three-cushion league
play in 1927 and three-cushion match play in 1945, and he
ran a record 25 points in a 1928 exhibition against Charles
C. Peterson. His grand tournament average of 1.33 in 1950
is also a record.
RALPH GREENLEAF - "The Showman"
(b. Nov. 3, 1899, Monmouth, IL d. March 15, 1950)
game of pool's first true showman. Rescued the game of pool
(pocket billiards) from near oblivion. (Prior to his emergence,
billiards' popularity was completely dominated by the carom
games.) Won his first world title in 1919, and defended
it nine straight times. Toured vaudeville with his beautiful
show-business wife, Princess Nai Tai Tai. Dazzled audiences
with spectacular trick-shot exhibitions, with a huge mirror
suspended over the table, to enhance the spectators' view.
Professionally, he was virtually untouchable, winning fourteen
world titles by 1937. More than anyone else, he rescued
the game of pool, by casting it into the spotlight, with
a natural showman's flair.
Generally ranked second to Willie Mosconi among the all-time
great pocket billiards players, Greenleaf won the world
professional title 6 times and defended it 13 times.
He held the championship from 1919 through 1924 and also
won it in 1926, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, and 1937. He set
records in 1929 for high single-game average, 63, and high
grand average, 11.02, on a 5- by 10-foot table.
A colorful showman, Greenleaf continued to attract spectators
to exhibition matches until his death of a heart attack
WILLIE MOSCONI - "The
Mosconi Era" (b. June 27, 1913, Philadelphia, PA d.
Sept. 16, 1993)
as "Billiards" was synonymous with "Willie
Hoppe," to many fans, "Pocket Billiards"
meant "Willie Mosconi." If Ralph Greenleaf had
rescued pool in the 1920's, it was Willie Mosconi who kept
it alive in its post-World War II decline. Mosconi was truly
a wizard at the table. From 1940 to 1957, he had a near-stranglehold
onthe world title, winning it fifteen times. It was during
the "Mosconi Era" that pool replaced billiards
as America's game of choice.It was upon his retirement in
1957, that public interest in the game all but withered
and died. He entered his first major tournament in 1937
and won the world pocket billiards championship in league
play in 1941 and in tournament play the following year.
After losing the championship in a match with Andrew Ponzi
in 1943, he regained the title by beating Ponzi in 1944
and held it until 1946, when Irving Crane won a world championship
Mosconi reclaimed the championship by beating Crane in
a 1947 match. From 1950 through 1953 and in 1956 and 1957,
Mosconi won annual tournaments to become world champion.
He retired from competition after suffering a stroke in
In 1954, Mosconi ran a record 526 balls during an exhibition
in Springfield, OH. He also set a record for highest run
in a single game, 127 balls, in 1945, and his high grand
tournament average of 18.34 balls in 1950 is the record
for a 4 1/2 by 9-foot table.
Even after his retirement from formal competition, Mosconi
was an enthusiastic promoter of pocket billiards for the
Brunswick company, giving exhibitions and appearing in televised
matches. He was technical advisor for the 1961 movie, The
Hustler, which starred Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.
JAKE SCHAEFER, SR. - "The Wizard"
player whose super-brilliance with a billiard cue won for
him the sobriquet of Wizard. So sums the lead
of a 1909 newspaper article signing the praises of JAKE
SCHAEFER, SR. From the last quarter of the 19th century
through the first decade of the 20th, Schaefer, Sr. was
one of the most feared names in Balkline Billiards. Derivations
of the game were invented just to stymie his genius
all unsuccessfully. He traveled throughout the world winning
matches and gathering fans. On March 11, 1908, though desperately
ill, he successfully defended his title in his final match
for the 18.1 championship against Willie Hoppe by a score
of 500 to 423.
JAKE SCHAEFER, JR. - "The Prodigy"
a greater talent than even his father. Billiard historians
generally rank him as the greatest of the American Balkline
players. He was the world champion at 18.2 in 1921, 1925,
1926, 1927, and 1929-1933. He held the 18.1 honors in 1926-1927
and the 28.2 title in 1937-1938.
At the 18.2 game, he holds four records which have never
been equaled in this country: best game average, 400 (from
the break); grand average, tournament, 57.14; grand average,
match, 93.25; high run, match, 432. To this day, holds four
Balkline world records that have never been equaled or broken.
JOHNNY LAYTON - "The Diamond King"
the World Three-Cushion Championship twelve times, defeating
such champions as Willie Hoppe and Jake Schaeffer, Jr. Perhaps
the most "scientific" of all billiard world champions.
Layton recorded the high three-cushion game mark of 50 points
in 23 innings, a record which still stands today. He was
credited with originating the method of using the diamond
system, using table markers to indicate direction of ball
rebounds, a style that he perfected through the application
of his highly developed mathematical mind.
JIMMY CARAS - "The Boy Wonder"
second living person to be inducted into the BCA Hall of
Fame. Became known as the "Boy Wonder of the World"
after defeating Ralph Greenleaf, at the age of 17. Won the
world title four times, from 1931 to 1949. Won the U.S.
Open eighteen years later, besting a field of 48 players.
Mr. Caras, born in 1910 in Scranton, PA, won his first world
championship in 1936 and also won world championships in
1938, 1939 and 1949. In 1967, he won the U.S. Open in a
field of 48 players.
His record of "most balls", "most games
won" and "fewest innings by a champion" still
stand in the record book for that size field. Mr. Caras
was inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in 1977. He recently
passed away and is greatly missed.
JEAN BALUKAS - "Cue Queen"
The second woman inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame, and currently
the Hall's youngest member. Competed in her first U.S. Open
at the age of 9, finishing seventh. Won her first U.S. Open
at the age of 12. Has collected 7 U.S. Open 14.1 titles, six
World Open titles, and countless 9-Ball and straight pool
STEVE MIZERAK - "The Miz"
Miz" Steve Mizerak is a Hall of Fame inductee who began
collecting titles in the late 1960's, including four U.S.
Open Championships. He is one of the most recognizeable
faces in the world of pool, appearing in the movie "
The Color of Money" and a series of Miler Lite commercials.
"The Miz" was named 5th in the 50 Greaest Players
of the Century and currently serves as President of Steve
VISIONARIES AND INNOVATORS OF THE
MICHAEL PHELAN - Revolutionized the table
and popularized the game in America
Father of American Billiards. An expert player, author, manufacturer,
inventor, and tireless promoter of the game. Worked endlessly
to improve the game's image, and spread its popularity to
all levels of society. Authored the first American books devoted
exclusively to billiards. Founded The Billiard Cue, billiards'
first periodical. His Arcadia Billiard Parlor, in New York
City, set the trend for the lavish rooms to follow. Holds
numerous patents for table design and cushions. Was the first
to put ivory "diamonds" on the rails. His "angular"
pocketsperhaps his greatest inventionled to incredible
shotmaking streaks. Won the first major stakes match in American
history, winning $15,000, in 1859.
JOHN WESLEY HYATT - Inventor of the composite
inventor of the world's first plastic. His discovery of
celluloid, in 1869, revolutionized not only the billiard
ball, but countless industries worldwide. Strangely, his
discovery had more to do with billiards than any plastic-related
vision or enterprise. His search began as a result of a
$10,000 prize, being offered for a substitute for ivory,
in the composition of billiard balls.
Though his discovery was not deemed worthy of the prize,
later advances in plastics led to the balls of today, and
forever changed the face of the world. It can thusly be
stated that the world's first plastic was actually the result
of a billiard-related quest: the search for a new material,
for the perfect billiard ball.
CAPTAIN MINGAUD - Invented the modern
cue tip & Masse shots...honed the scientific edge of
Invented the leather cue tip in the early 1800's. Imprisoned
in France for political reasons. Was allowed the use of
a billiard table inside his prison cell, and became obsessed
with the game. Became a student of the physics of shotmaking,
and truly transformed the cue into a scientific instrument.
Revolutionized the "magic" one could impart on
the cue ball, through the use of "spin" and "english."
Mingaud also discovered that by raising the cue almost
vertically - in fact into the position in which the mace
would be used - extraordinary spin effects could be obtained
by striking a sharp downwards glancing blow to the left
and right across the cue ball. This type of shot or stroke
became known as the masse - French for mace. No other invention
so dramatically affected "touch," control, positioning,
and overall strategic pla
JOHN THURSTON - Brought table making
into the Industrial Age..invented the first Slate table
English inventor and table maker. Among the first to mass-produce
tables, with the onset of industrialization. Inventor of
the slate table bed. Unsatisfied with the playability and
warping tendency of wood, he set out in search of a new
material. His discovery came in the form of slate, in 1826.
Slate was cheap, readily available, and offered a far smoother
surface. Its immense weight led to the construction of far
sturdier tables. His innovation has truly withstood the
test of time. Slate continues to be the material of choice
in quality tables today.
CHARLES GOODYEAR - Gave us rubber and
gave billiards bank shots
the process for the vulcanization of rubber. Applications
of his discovery revolutionized the billiard cushion (as
well as a hundred other industries). Vulcanized rubber was
stable and consistent. Unlike previous rubbers, it retained
its resiliency in the most searing heat and the bitterest
cold. John Thurston was the first to use Goodyear's discovery
in the construction of billiard cushions. The result was
a consistent, reliable cushion. Bank shots, once unpredictable,
became integral parts of the game. Vulcanized rubber has
proven so unsurpassed, it is still used in cushions today.
Charles Goodyear, sadly, profited little from his discovery.
He was imprisoned for debt, his company folded, and he died
a veritable pauper.
JOHN M. BRUNSWICK - The first big name
in the American Billiards Industry
immigrant and woodworker. Emigrated to America in 1819.
Built a billiard table factory in 1845. For nearly 150 years,
Brunswick has been the most visible name in American billiards.
Merged with his two largest competitorsJulius Balke,
in 1873; and Phelan and Collender, in 1884. Officially became
"Goliath," the largest billiard company in the
world. Passed control to his family, upon his death, in
1886. For over forty years (until the Depression), the company
enjoyed an incredible upward spiral of profits, growth and
success. Entered (and soon monopolized) the bowling industry.
Worked hard to improve billiards reputation, by teaching
and donating tables to charitable groups. Drastically cut
product lines during the Depression. Survived and grew again
as economy improved. Sponsored thousands of tournaments
over the course of the centuries. In the world of billiards,
Brunswick remains the dominant name in American pool rooms