When was Pickleball Invented?

All over America, people are picking up paddles and hitting plastic balls with holes in them across what looks like a mini-tennis court. Professional associations organize tours and pay players. And while it may seem like pickleball came out of nowhere, it’s been around for a while.  So, when was pickleball invented?

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. While at the Pritchard’s summer home with their families in Bainbridge Island, Washington, over a few days, they invented a new racquet sport that the entire family could play and that has now taken over America. 

I’ll dive into more of the history of how the fastest-growing sport in the US came to be, so read on!

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02/21/2024 07:47 am GMT

When Was Pickleball Invented – A Brief Timeline

  • In 1965 the game of pickleball was invented
  • By 1966 the court and its rules were solidified by the 3 families
  • By 1968 the first sets of paddles were being distributed
  • In 1968 Pickleball Inc. was created by the three families as a legit business
  • 1973 the first known pickleball tournament was held in Tylenol Washington
  • In 1984 the USAPA was formed and the first rule book was created
  • 1990 pickleball is now being played in all 50 US states
  • 2019 pickleball claims the title “fastest growing sport in the US” and has held onto it since

Pickleball’s Inventor

The trio of Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum may not be household names, but they have a place in pickleball lore.

In the summer of 1965, while at Pritchard’s cabin on Bainbridge Island, Washington, the three men invented the sport of pickleball.

Joel Pritchard

Joel Pritchard was a long-serving Washington state Republican politician from the mid-50s to 1997, the year that he passed. 

Pickleball was born at Pritchard’s home, using a paved badminton court on his property. He considered its invention his greatest accomplishment

Bill Bell

A friend of Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and his family were there to help birth pickleball on a quiet summer day in 1965. Together, the two fathers played around with different rules and worked toward a sport that all could enjoy.

Originally, the inventors set the net at badminton height, but the two quickly realized that it needed to be lower to allow for smashing. 

The no-volley zone quickly followed so that adults couldn’t dominate the game as much.

Barney McCallum

Another family friend, Barney McCallum, was enlisted the weekend after Pritchard and Bell first started working on the game’s rules. Knowing what a handyman he was, the two asked McCallum to design some of the equipment for the game. He would create the first true pickleball racquets.

In 1972 McCallum founded Pickleball Inc., a company dedicated to spreading pickleball and supplying its equipment.

pickleball

What Country Invented Pickleball?

Three people from the USA invented pickleball on Bainbridge Island, Washington state. It started as a backyard match but, over the years, has grown throughout America and is now a highly competitive sport with multiple professional associations.

While pickleball currently enjoys the most popularity in the US, other countries are beginning to pick up the sport.

North of the border, Canadians are playing a lot of pickleball, as are countries like China and India.

Currently, the only continent that doesn’t have active participation in the game is Africa.

Pickleball’s Similarities to Other Sports

As the story goes, the players in the first pickleball game used a perforated ball and table tennis paddles. They set up a crude court with an outdoor badminton net in the middle, setting it to a lower height, and created simple rules to allow anyone to play the game.

The court is similar to badminton’s, the paddles have evolved to be much larger versions of table tennis paddles, and engineers have changed the ball slightly from the original whiffle ball.

Because of this, you could say that pickleball is a combination of these three sports but with its own unique flair.

Related Content: Click the link for my beginner’s guide to how pickleball is different than tennis!

The Reason for Pickleball’s Name

For someone new to pickleball, it might be surprising that pickled cucumbers have nothing to do with the game’s naming. Certainly, there are no pickle-shaped racquets or balls.

There are different accounts of how the sport got its name, passed down from the people who invented it.

pickleball

A Sport Named After a Dog?

The first version of how pickleball got its name involved a dog. The pup was called Pickles, and it is said he would run around and steal the ball any time it would go out of bounds. It happened so many times, that they decided to name the sport after him.

Unfortunately, it turns out that this is a tall tale as Pickles the dog only came around in 1968, three years after they invented the sport.

The Pickle Boat Theory

The second, true story involves Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan. According to the USA Pickleball Association, she came up with the name after noticing that the game took elements from several other sports. Joan compared it to the pickle boat in crew rowing that takes members from other boats and finally came up with ‘pickleball.’

Related Content: For more on how pickleball’s name is a bit of controversy, click here!

Is Pickleball the Fastest Growing Sport?

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. Currently, close to 5 million players take part in the country, and from 2020 to 2021, the sport grew by 14.8%.

Fun Fact: According to the USAPA, pickleball is growing in America faster than any other sport.

Given how accessible the sport is with rules that make it easy for anyone to take part, it’s no surprise. Professional tournaments even include senior categories where players over 50 years old compete.

The First Pickleball Tournament

In the early years, pickleball was mostly a recreational game played on driveways. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that it leaped into truly competitive sports territory.

In the spring of that year, the first known tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington.

Most of the tournament’s participants were college tennis players who knew little about pickleball. First place in the men’s singles event went to David Lester.

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Will Pickleball Be an Olympic Sport?

Pickleball is currently ineligible to become an Olympic sport. To be considered a potential event in the Summer Olympics, at least 75 countries must play the sport. Pickleball is just short of that number, as only 70 countries play.

The ball is in pickleball’s court, though. Literally.

People are flocking to pickleball courts globally and enjoying the game more every year. There are even two professional associations in America – the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA).

Based on the current trends of the sport though, it’s only a matter of time before pickleball is seen at the Summer Olympics.

When Was Pickleball Invented – My Final Thoughts

Pickleball has humble roots tracing back to a Washington backyard in 1965. It was a family game back then, but it’s turned into a sport enjoyed by millions all over the world.

Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, the inventors of pickleball, created a legacy to be proud of—one that’s now a worldwide phenomenon.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Invention of Pickleball

1. What is the brief history of pickleball?

Pickleball has its origins in Bainbridge Island, Washington state, and was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum as a makeshift game for their children.

2. Who invented pickleball?

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum on Bainbridge Island in Washington state.

3. When was the first pickleball game played?

Many beginners don’t know this but, the first pickleball game was played in 1965 on a badminton court. The inventors could not find the shuttlecock, and they improvised with a paddle and a plastic ball.

4. What was the original pickleball court like?

The first makeshift pickleball court was laid out on the hard part of an old badminton court, and the net was lowered to a height of 36 inches.

5. The first permanent pickleball court

The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in 1967 on Bainbridge Island, Washington state, where the game was originally invented.

6. More on the growth of pickleball as a sport begin

The growth of pickleball as a sport began in the 1970s, and it quickly gained popularity, especially among the older age groups.

7. When was pickleball included in the International Federation of pickleball?

Pickleball started to gain international recognition and was officially included in the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) in 2010.

8. So, when was the USAPA formed?

The United States Amateur Pickleball Association was formed in 1984 along with the first official rule book for the game.  Why was it formed? The USAPA was formed not only to help grow the game but to manage the monumental growth it saw in the 1980s and 1990s.  Rule changes for the game needed a governing body and the USAPA helped organize the rules and the game’s global expansion. 

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