The History of Candlepin Bowling

Candlepin bowling (which some might call mini or duckpin bowling) has been around since the early 1900s, after ten pin bowling was invented.

by Allison McAuliffe
May 24, 2022

Tenpin bowling had already been around in the 1880s when Justin P. White had the idea for a more challenging spinoff. He called it candlepin bowling, and it’s become a part of growing up in New England for over a century. 

White owned a bowling and billiards parlor in Worcester, Massachusetts, a city roughly 40 miles west of Boston. While White thought of the initial idea for candlepin bowling, Jack Monsey and Jack Sheafe are credited for bringing the game to surrounding Massachusetts towns and establishing rules and regulations. 

Check out this clip of Boston Rob at Southie Bowl and click here to learn more about our original show “Boston Rob Does Beantown”

In 1906, Monsey established the National Duckpin and Candlepin Congress, organizations to help create leagues in the greater Worcester area, as well as regulate the size, shape and weight of the pins and balls. The formation of these two groups set the stage for candlepin bowling leagues and tournaments around New England. It was truly a team effort these men put forth to give us the candlepin bowling game we know and love so much.

How is candlepin bowling different from tenpin?

Candlepin bowling is played similarly to tenpin, but there are some obvious differences that make candlepin much more challenging. 

The name candlepin comes from the inspiration for the pins’ appearance, a candlestick. Originally the pins were made of wood, so regulating the size was rather difficult in the beginning. The ball was even made of wood at first! 

The pins are a cylindrical shape, tapering at both ends so there’s no real top or bottom to them. They stand about 15 3/4 inches with a 3-inch diameter and weigh about 2.5 pounds. The pins are set up just as in tenpin bowling, but because the shape to the candlepins is narrow, there’s more space between them, which means it’s harder to get them all to fall. 

Since it’s harder to hit all the pins, players get to throw 3 balls per frame instead of 2. But there’s a twist – the balls are much smaller than tenpin bowling balls! Initially, the size of the bowling balls formerly measured 3-inches in diameter and weighed 2 pounds. Now, they are 4 1/2 inches in diameter, weighing 2 pounds and 7 ounces. 

Candlepin bowling (which some might call mini or duckpin bowling) has been around since the early 1900s, after ten pin bowling was invented.

The game looks a little different today than when it was first played. In the early years “pin boys” would gather fallen pins and set and reset the game for players. That all changed by 1947 when Howard Dowd and Lionel Barrow invented the automatic candlepin pinsetter. Then in the late 1960s pins were made out of plastic instead of wood. For avid bowlers, this change affected their strategy but was welcomed overall due to the uniformity of plastic pins. 

Beginning in the late ‘50s candlepin bowling tournaments were aired on T.V. The Boston Globe even sponsored a tournament.  By 1965, the World Candlepin Bowling Council started its Hall of Fame which currently has over 200 members. A perfect score is 300, but no one in candlepin bowling history has ever scored a perfect game. The highest score recorded is 245 by Ralph Semb in 1984 and Chris Sargent in 2011.  

It’s a game that requires great skill versus strength, making it appealing to anyone regardless of age, size or strength! Be sure to check out your local bowling alley for the classic candlepin bowling game that’s a Massachusetts staple!

After earning a degree in journalism, Allison took some time away from writing and became a personal trainer. She learned so much about how to communicate with a variety of people and how to inspire and motivate others. Now as a freelancer, she loves writing for the health, fitness and wellness space along with features highlighting local shops, restaurants, events, etc.

More Local Stories

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Sanford

On this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando explore what’s new in the Northern part of town. Sanford has a plethora of breweries, bars, and delicious dining options to choose from.

Hometown Tragedy: The Pike County Massacre

On this episode of Hometown Tragedy: Missing in Milwaukee, we’ll explore what happened to Jerica Banks, her children, and how it impacted their community.

Six New Orleans parks that are perfect locations to celebrate 4th of July

Head to one of these six New Orleans parks to celebrate Independence Day in the city.

Cheap Date Orlando: Punk Rock & Pooches

Two Orlando couples shop vintage, search for the perfect slice, visit a post-apocalyptic saloon, and take the stage on blind dates in Orlando.

Fit and Fab: Free summer workouts in Boston

Cover photo courtesy Getty Images Looking to get fit for the summer? Still wary of COVID-19 or just looking for some sunshine while you sweat? Here are some Boston free summer workouts across the city so you can keep moving all season long! Seaport Sweat May 2 to Sept. 29 Boston’s biggest free workout series…

What’s On the Menu?: Farm-to-table

The farm-to-table movement brings locally grown foods to your plate. Not only will enjoying farm-to-table meals allow you to indulge in fresh, nutritional, seasonal dishes, but farm-to-table dining helps the environment and supports the local economy.  Check out these delicious farm-to-table restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina on the latest episode of What’s On the Menu?. …

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

A guide to Pittsburgh’s summer events must-do list

Check out our roundup below for the can’t-miss events happening in the city over the next few months.

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Tarpon Springs

In this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando you’ll be transported to a thriving Greek community nestled on Florida’s gulf coast. From sponge diving to flaming cheese to a Greek bakery that supplies a ginormous amount of baklava to the entire country, you’re sure to fall in love with Greek culture in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Dorchester doughnuts that pack a paczki

These traditional Polish pastries are the real deal.

Fit and Fab: Free summer workouts in Boston

Cover photo courtesy Getty Images Looking to get fit for the summer? Still wary of COVID-19 or just looking for some sunshine while you sweat? Here are some Boston free summer workouts across the city so you can keep moving all season long! Seaport Sweat May 2 to Sept. 29 Boston’s biggest free workout series…

Dorchester doughnuts that pack a paczki

These traditional Polish pastries are the real deal.

Boston Rob’s Guide to East Boston

Join Rob Mariano to explore some of the hidden gems that East Boston has to offer.  East Boston, a melting pot of cuisines and cultures, is known for its vibrant neighborhoods, some of Boston’s most diverse eateries and the best waterfront views the city has to offer. (And, of course, Logan Airport.) Learn more about…

Cape Cod

Guide to a Weekend Getaway in Cape Cod

Let a naughty mermaid be your guide to a finger-licking, dune-humping, lobster-rolling, ghost-hunting good time in this charming and historic seaside community.