Is it a Billiard Table or Pool Table?


I must admit that for many years I was of a mindset that a "BILLIARD" table was pocket less and a "POOL" table had pockets. This is an understandable bit of confusion for one growing up in America in the 1940's and 50's and going to Kenny's Barber (Pool) shop in Brighton, Iowa where there were only tables with pockets in a smoke filled back room. 

 1 Billiard or Carom  2 Pool Table

 Billiard/Carom Table (no pockets)?

 Pool Table (pockets)?

The confusion between the terms billiards and pool go back early in time and were made even more confusing by companies like the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company at the turn of the twentieth century.

The consensus is that the word billiards is derived from the French word "Bille" which means ball and/or from "Bilart" meaning a stick. Most agree that the game of billiards evolved from a lawn game played in the heat of the summer to a table game that could be played during inclement winter weather in Europe. European literary works that look back at the history of the game always refer to the many different table games as billiards. The only reference to pool in European billiards is the game of "Life Pool" where spectators as well as the players could bet on the outcome of a specific game of billiards.

When it comes to the final four basketball tournament in the United States everyone picks the winning order of the teams playing and wager in what is called an "office pool". Did you ever wonder where that name "pool" came from in today's extremely popular final four basketball tournament?

The word pool comes from the French word "Poule" meaning a collective stake. Nineteenth century horse racing in Europe included an auction process of "pooling" bets of the many people wagering in the outcome of a horse race. This betting was done at posts around the grounds where individuals would set odds for the horses and collect bets. You could move from one post to another until you found the odds you wanted. I witnessed this first hand on a Sunday at the very proper (large hats, white suits and tea) Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya.

Betting at Ngong Racecourse is done through a totalisator pool betting system. Daily betting is available at the Racecourse for both football and horse racing through Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, the largest provider of betting in South Africa, allowing all bettors at different locations to access the same betting pool. The minimum bet on the Tote System is 1 US Dollar but the system can take bets of any higher amount that the punter may wish to make.

Many literary writers on the subject believe that the term "pool" rather than "billiard" when referring to the table game is in large part an American slang word closely related to horse racing in America. 1800's horse racing in the United States involved betting on the horses as it did in Europe. However rather than betting at a post at the track, betting was done in what was called a "pool room" at or near the track where the bets could be collected and the odds set. Needless to say there was down time between horse races and thus the pool room operators (bookmakers) added billiard tables and served alcohol to the patrons to keep them in the room so they could lose even more of their money on the horses. So you see the term "pool room" referring to a betting parlor preceded the term "pool room" referring to an establishment for the table game. Over time the slang term for the table became a "pool table" rather than "billiard table" much the same as the establishment was called a "pool room" rather than a bookmaker's room.

What is still a bit unclear to me is how the term pool became synonyms with a billiard table with pockets. I expect it is because the popular American games at the time were pyramid pool and 15 ball pool which are played on a table with pockets. This terminology was reinforced by the leading manufacturer of billiard tables in the U.S., Brunswick-Balke-Collender. The 1891 Brunswick catalogue cover shown below is titled "Billiard and Pool Tables".

3 Billiard and Pool Table

On the inside of this catalogue you find examples of tables being sold such as the Narragansett table shown below.  While hard to read here, in the lower right corner of the page is the statement, “furnished either as “carrom” or pool table, or both combined.  Notice the table shown has no pockets. Thus there is the linking of carrom to a billiard table with no pockets and pool to a table with pockets.  Clearly, Brunswick was a major promoter of the name pool table meaning a pocket billiard table. 


4 Narragansett


After the turn of the twentieth century the United States began an evolutionary period where it wanted to clean up its reputation as a country. We no longer wanted our European neighbors to think of the U.S. as embracing a place where drinking, prostitution and the Wild West was the norm. There was a significant back lash against men hanging out in saloons and all that it entailed, including playing pool. Remember the musical and the movie "The Music Man". Hanging out in a "POOL ROOM" was not a good way to influence or bring up the younger generation. It would not belong before there would be prohibition.

Sensing this new morality, Brunswick-Balke-Collender published the Brunswick catalog (in approximately 1915) with the title that read, "Carom and Pocket Billiard Table and Supplies" (note in 1891 it was carrom and here it is carom). On the inside cover there is an ad shown below encouraged billiard room operators to use the term billiard rather than pool. And so for Brunswick, the term "pool" was out and it was being replaced by "pocket billiards". In the same catalog Brunswick was selling the pictures of the glamorous women playing pool by Archie Dunn. In other ads by Brunswick and others, there was a flourish of pictures of families and women playing pool. They were trying hard to dispel the image of an establishment that catered to men hanging out where drinking and betting were the norm.

5 Brunswick 1915 6 Kill the word Pool


The manufacturers and marketers of billiard tables were never successful in stamping out the term "pool". Today, if you are in Europe you will find that any table with or without pockets is still referred to as a billiard table. In the U.S. a pool table is normally thought of as a table with pockets and a pocket less table is either a billiard table or a carom table. For this web site, I may find myself using the terms interchangeably. When it comes to a cue I always think of it as a billiard cue and not a pool cue. Don't ask me why.

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