The game of Candlepins was founded in 1880 by Justin P. White in Worcester Massachusetts as an alternative to Ten Pins, which he felt was too easy of a game. Where scores of 300 (a perfect game) was attainable in Ten Pins, since 1880 no one has rolled a 300 game in Candlepins. The pins were made of wood and varied in size since the pins need constant sanding on their ends to remain upright.

Current Equipment vs 1879 EquipmentThese are the 10-inch broomsticks that Justin P. White found when he purchased the alleys at 37 Pearl Street in Worcester Massachusetts in 1879. Together with a 3-inch ball, this must have been quite a challenge. It is little wonder that this experiment in bowling was short-lived. However, this discarded equipment germinated the idea of the candlepin in J. P. White’s mind.

In 1894, Justin P. White invented the Candlepin that would be used for the next 100 years. Several different pins were tried after 1894. The “Worcester” pin would generally be used in that region, in the seaboard area, the “Boston” pin would be used. Most houses used whatever pin suited their clients tastes.

The lanes of that period varied in length from 30 to 60 feet as did the balls. In 1893, Jack Monsey devised the rules and regulations for Candlepin bowling and he standardized the equipment used to play the game.

  • Lanes – 60 feet long from the foul line to the head pin and 42 inches wide.
  • Balls – 4 ½ inches in diameter
  • Pins – Distance between the pin spots to 12 inches
  • Wood – Always in play. (Until now the player could opt to either use the wood or have it removed.

1906 LanesFor the next 23 years, Jack Monsey, almost single-handedly, through promotion and crusading, established what would be called the Hey-Days of Candlepin bowling. The picture on the right, taken around 1906, shows many things. Note the way the seating was done. All the spectators are in their Sunday best and there are no women in the crowd. Along the center, is a curtain that was rolled down when the women bowled to “screen them from curious eyes.” The alleys were made of a darker wood at that time, and the lighting was very poor.

Pin PersonsUntil the advent of the automatic pin-setter in 1947, Candlepin bowling was dependent upon pin-boys to reset the pins and return the balls to the bowlers. I have found out, that an amusement park two miles from our house was the location of the first automatic pin-setter in the country, for ANY form of bowling. This was in Whalom Park in Lunenburg Massachusetts, and there were 4 of these machines installed in 1949. The pin-setters were made by two Massachusetts residents, Howard M. Dowd and R. Lionel Barrow. With the success of the pin-setter they founded the Bowl-Mor Corporation. Unfortunately these lanes no longer exist and the machines have been sold to other houses. Since the pin-setters are expensive and Candlepin bowling is not popular outside of Massachusetts and northern New England, most Candlepin pin-setters are older refurbished machines. Some of them have been around for 20-40 years!

By the 1960′s, Candlepin bowling became more and more popular, with new installations, tournaments, and leagues turning up everywhere. 1960 was also the year that the World Candlepin Bowling Council (WCBC) was founded. In 1964, the WCBC founded the Candlepin Hall of Fame and the first inductees were honored in 1965.

Inducted for Competitive Ability
Miss Louise HamiltonBoston, Massachusetts
Mrs. Ruth MutheWorcester, Massachusetts
Mrs. Paul PoehlerEverett, Massachusetts
William BeattyBoston, Massachusetts
Paul PoehlerEverett, Massachusetts
Archie WalshMattapan, Massachusetts
Inducted for Extraordinary Service and Game Contribution
Howard M. Dowd
• Inventor of the first Candlepin automatic pin-setter
Littleton, Massachusetts
Roy E. Hardy
• Former president of the National Bowling Council and Massachusetts Bowling Association
Andover, Massachusetts
John J. Monsey
• Originator of the game
Worcester, Massachusetts
Joseph P. Sacco
• Former president of the World Candlepin Bowling Council Inc., and the Massachusetts Bowling Association
Belmont Massachusetts

Lanes Under ConstructionFew people have ever seen alleys under construction. The lanes comprise of 41 or 42 1 inch by no less than 2 ½ inch hard maple. The lanes sit on upright 2 by 4s that are no more than 24 inches apart. All this stands atop no less than 3 ½ inches of concrete. Wooden shims between the concrete, 2 by 4s and the alleys assure a level surface. The picture below is the finished house.

'Modern' LanesFrom the 1960′s, a few improvements were made to the equipment and alleys. The approach length was standardized, and the automatic pin-setters were improved. Candlepins is now the most popular form of bowling in the Massachusetts and northern New England region, with many tournaments and pick-up matches held weekly.