Where did the game of foosball come from, and where did it get that peculiar name? Just like all proud North Carolinians flinch when they see the Ohio “birthplace of aviation” license plates, many Europeans share a similar rivalry over the birthplace of this classic table game.

European origins

In the late 1930s, a famous inventor named Lucien Rosengart (who also invented the seat belt) claims to have invented the first table soccer model as a way to entertain bored grandchildren during the long winter. Being a Frenchman, the French are quick to claim that Rosengart was indeed the originator of the game. He even had a somewhat creepy name for this prototype: “baby foot.” Maybe it sounds better in French.

Alexandre de Finesterre, an injured Spanish soldier during that country’s civil war, says he was the initial creator. When he was lying in the hospital with nothing better to do, he came up with a game called futbolin and patented it in 1937. The Spanish tend to feel this creation was the beginning of the game.

The English scoff at both these claims, though, because they have a recorded patent application from Harold Searles Thorton in 1921. He had reportedly been looking at a box of matches, and the match sticks coming out from the side of the box inspired the design. Thorton decided to call the game “foosball” as a play on the word football. The Germans used the term fuBball (the large B is pronounced like two s’s) for what Americans call soccer, so it was likely a jab at them.

The growth of “foosball”

Despite the British origins, the game did not take off in popularity until a bit later. The French and Spanish versions may have helped it gain notice. Its growth expanded by World War II so that table soccer, what we call foosball, was then incredibly popular in mainland Europe.

The Belgians set up the first competitive league in 1950, but the competition had been building for decades.

Enter the Americans

An American soldier named Lawrence Patterson was stationed in what was then West Germany in the early 1960s. He noticed the German obsession with table soccer and also began enjoying the game. Patterson thought there could be a business opportunity and decided to contract a Bavarian company to start manufacturing tables to be offered in the United States.

The tables were sold starting in 1962 and proved to be a big hit with Americans. Patterson patented the word “foosball” in both the United States and Canada. Was this decision a coincidence and only done because he learned of the game in Germany, or did he do his research to find the original English-language version patented by Harold Searles Thorton in 1921 with the same name?

Triangle Home Gamerooms has a large selection of foosball tables and accessories

No matter where it came from or what you call it, “foosball” is a lot of fun. Triangle Home Gamerooms supplies these tables and related accessories to Raleigh, Durham, and the greater Triangle area. Come on by if you’re ever in the mood to play “baby foot,” “futbolin,” “table soccer,” or just foosball. We’ll get you set up.

If you would like more information about any of our products, please call us at (919) 661-2738. We’ll be happy to help!