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Vintage Brunswick Bowling Equipment

For millions of Americans no name is more closely associated with bowling than Brunswick. Entire generations have grown up playing by with Brunswick's balls by Brunswick's rules, in Brunswick bowling centers. At its height, the company was a conglomerate that dominated every aspect of the sport from the lanes in the local alley to professional leagues across the country. Anyone who wanted to bowl knew exactly where to turn.

What's the Story?

Like many stories, this one starts with one man: Moses Bensinger, son-in-law of the founder. In his view, bowling was as the future, but at the time, disorganization managed to hamstring the whole game. There were no standard rules, no standards for bowling balls, and no standards for lanes. Running a one man campaign, he was able to drag bowling into the twentieth century. Thanks to his leadership and that of his successors, Brunswick was largely responsible for the following innovations in the bowling industry:

  • The American Bowling Congress: The first codifying body for the American game, that helped standardize the rules of the game.
  • Mineralite: The hard rubber Mineralite ball is not only credited with the end of the wooden ball era, but also with the introduction of custom drilling, which made the sport more accessible for people with different sized hands. More women and children began to bowl.
  • Bowling Alley Design: In the 1940's the company introduced the semi-circular seat organization at the head of the lane which has dominated centers ever since.
  • Automatic Pinsetters: Thanks to this innovation, people no longer have to run behind the lanes to set up bowling bins after every throw.

What about Collecting Bowling Accessories?

Any interested collector can find a wide range of different vintage equipment to help build their own personal bowling shrine, or just give themselves more options in play. While some vintage pieces may not be something you would want to take with you on league night, others might fit right in for casual bowling. In general, vintage bowling equipment falls into two categories:

  • Usable: Anyone wanting usable vintage equipment need look no further than a bowling ball or bowling bag. Many vintage bowling balls are still perfectly usable regardless of age, and as long as the ball is the right size for the bag, there should be no problem.
  • Display: Nobody expects you to bring your own pins, but vintage bowling pins do look good on display, as does that vintage bowling ball you don't want to play with any more. Few people want to wear decades-old bowling shoes either.

Recognizing Vintage Equipment

The best way to get a grip on vintage Brunswick products is not to go down to your local Brunswick Zone but to learn the history of the sport. One way to do it is through the history of the bowling ball. Originally made of wood, the technology progressed through rubber, polyester, and even resin. Each time the arcades resurfaced their lanes the balls had to change their finishes to adjust to it. Otherwise, you could no longer roll a strike with the same action as you could before. The more you know, the easier it is to tell if that single bowling bag is vintage or not.