Popular along the eastern seaboard of the United States and even into the province of Quebec in Canada, duckpin bowling is somewhat similar to the more popular ten-pin bowling game, with some important differences. While there is some difference of opinion on the exact origins of the sport, there can be no doubt that duckpin bowling was an established pastime by World War I.
One purported origin of duckbill bowling is traced to the beginning of the 20th century and the city of Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. According to this legend, the sport was first played at a bowling alley owned by John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, both of whom were later inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Other sources trace the origin of the game to Lowell, Massachusetts in the early years of the 1890’s.
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Regardless of origin, the popular name of the sport is usually attributed to John McGraw. Since the new form of bowling involved the use of pins that were scaled down versions of the standard sized bowling pins, McGraw is said to have referred to the setup of the pins as resembling a flock of flying ducks. The fanciful image stuck, and the smaller pins were dubbed duckpins.
There are several significant differences between standard bowling and duckpin bowling. First, the duckpin is shorter and has a more squat appearance than standard pins. Bowling balls used in duckpin bowling are also smaller and do not include any holes for the fingers. The bowler is allowed three shots to clear the pins, rather than two. Lofting, or tossing the ball a short distance down the lane, is also permissible with duckpin bowling.
Today, there are national associations for duckpin enthusiasts that help to promote the sport. A number of high-level competitions are held each year, with many of them taking place in the New England area. Duckpin bowling is considered to be especially popular with younger persons who may have more trouble with the heavier bowling balls used in ten-pin bowling, as well as seniors who find the lighter weight of the duckpin balls easier to manage.