The first bowling balls used in the United States were made of wood, especially oak, and lignum vitae wood. In about 1906 the first hard rubber balls were produced, such as the Brunswick “Mineralite” ball, and these remained the standard until the 1960s and 70s. These decades saw the emergence of plastic (polyester) balls which were invented by Charles B. Lapera.
In the early 1970s, people began experimenting with the hardness of the plastic balls. The reason for this is to allow the ball to “grab” the lane better. Plastic balls were difficult to hook on tough oil conditions. Until the late 1970s, there were no rules regarding the hardness of the bowling ball’s surface. PBA member Don McCune took advantage of the non-existence of such a rule. McCune at the time worked for Chuck Hamilton, who invented the “soaker” — a plastic (usually polyester) ball he softened “in the garage” with chemical solvents such as MEK, which would excrete a sticky substance, allowing the ball to hook more on oily conditions. At times, the balls were soaked to the point that the balls might even end up lopsided. Columbia – a more established manufacturer of bowling balls – came out with a series of “yellow dot” balls that were similar in function to the “soaker.” The hardness of the ball’s surface came under ABC scrutiny because of the increased scoring, particularly by McCune, who with his “soaker” won six PBA tournaments in 1973 and PBA Player of the Year honors. The ABC established a durometer hardness rule of 72, which barred even some of the out-of-the-factory softer balls. The PBA took the issue even further by applying a more strict 75 hardness rule. To effectively test the hardness, the PBA required each ball to bear a 0.25-inch deep hole, just above the finger holes. The durometer would be inserted into the hole, allowing the meter to perform the test beneath the ball’s surface.
Sanding of the bowling ball surface was another technique to soften the ball’s surface. Once the track area is located on the ball, the bowler would sand the track area to make the surface more abrasive, allowing the ball to hook more. And, bowlers would apply solvents to the ball’s surface during tournament play – rubbing the chemicals into the cover using a rag. More rules by the ABC had to be passed, including restrictions from doctoring the bowling ball’s surface at anytime once the ball has passed inspection by an official.
At some point in ball making and drilling, the ABC introduced ball balance regulations to prevent people from taking advantage of certain forms of “weighting.” It was possible to drill the grip at a location relative to the weight block so that it would achieve some effect, such as to help the bowler make it roll earlier or hook more. Guide holes were also used to stabilize the roll of the ball, by drilling the guide hole in perpendicular to the track area of the ball. This allowed the ball to avoid over-hooking or roll-out before hitting the pocket.
In 1981 Ebonite began manufacturing the very first urethane cover stock bowling balls and sold the rights to AMF. Ebonite produced AMF balls at that time. Ebonite did not believe that bowlers would pay the $80.00 price this new technology would demand. That ball became the AMF Angle and this one coverstock change allowed the ball to get a better grip on the urethane finishes used on natural wood lane surfaces, which changed the nature of the bowling game significantly. Then in 1991, Nu-Line Industries produced the X-Calibur, a reactive resin cover. Part time professional Steve Cooper was the owner and President of the Corporation. But production lagged in the early days, allowing firms like Storm, Brunswick and Columbia to enter the reactive market by the following summer. The race to create more and more dynamic balls was on.
Prior to about 1990, the ABC “static” ball balance regulations were adequate. The core was usually a uniform sphere centered inside the ball. Then competition among ball manufacturers motivated the production of balls designed to offer more than the “static balance” tricks. Materials and fabrication changes have since allowed the assembly of balls whose interior components have a much greater range of density, thereby offering a new ball choice that, in physics terms, involves the moment of inertia of a solid sphere. Eventually, “dynamic balance” regulations had to be adopted.
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