The Ping Pong Craze Arrived in Grand Forks, 1902
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.