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What is Duckpin Bowling?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Sports n' Hobbies, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon304136 — On Nov 18, 2012

I have an original Skowhegan Duck Pin bowling set, and am going to list it on eBay, today. It's a wood bowling set, vintage, in the original box, too! What fun! It's also miniature size.

By anon171692 — On May 01, 2011

@post no. 1: I have a box, too! The box is primarily aqua with white and brown lettering and graphics. I am trying to find info, too!

By anon133869 — On Dec 12, 2010

Was there ever a bowling game that used a small bowling ball with three finger holes and ten pins?

By anon133131 — On Dec 09, 2010

Are 5 pin balls and duckpin balls the same? What size and weight should I use for 5 pin bowling?

By anon39741 — On Aug 04, 2009

I have an existing one bowling ball. it's a Storm. i wish to get another one. What are the guidelines on buying a second ball?

By Dan13 — On Feb 09, 2009

how would i find duckpin bowling pins? could you tell anything about it-dan

By anon24125 — On Jan 07, 2009

I was wondering if anyone has ever heard of the Skowhegan Company that produced wooden pins and balls. I have a set in the original box and was wondering about their history. Thanks!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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