Ninepin Bowling

By: Mary Lou LeCompte

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 23, 2016

Ninepins was the most popular form of bowling in much of the United States from colonial times until the early nineteenth century, when it was outlawed in many areas and replaced by tenpins. Today, ninepins has disappeared from all of the United States except Texas, where both nine and ten pin bowling have been known since the 1830s. Ninepin alleys were numerous enough by 1837 to be subjected to an annual tax of $150 by the First Congress of the Republic of Texas, and all forms of bowling have remained legal and subject to taxation in Texas ever since. Whereas tenpin alleys were usually found in saloons and other establishments frequented exclusively by men, ninepin alleys were often built by clubs patronized by families. From the 1870s through the turn of the century, ninepin alleys were added to facilities of German-Texan casino societies, Turnvereine (see TURNVEREIN MOVEMENT), and Liedertafeln (singing clubs). The German style of bowling that they introduced originated with folk festivals where socializing was more important than athletic success. The rules and spirit of early German-Texan bowling are still reflected in the traditions and activities of Texas ninepin clubs. Then as now, bowlers rolled wooden balls of various sizes at nine pins set in a diamond configuration. The object was for a team to down the eight surrounding pins and leave the large number-five pin, or kingpin, standing, for a strike and twelve points. Downing all pins resulted in a score of nine. Pins were reset only when an inning was complete (all members of the team having bowled two balls), all pins were downed, or only the kingpin remained. By World War I most Texas bowling establishments, both private and commercial, had changed to tenpins. However, ninepins remained popular in predominantly German communities like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, until the introduction of fully automated pin-setting machinery in the 1950s caused most of them to make the change as well. Those bowlers who still preferred the teamwork and camaraderie of ninepins then moved to the ninepin clubs in small outlying communities of Bexar, Comal, and Guadalupe counties. Organizations like the Blanco, Marion, Freiheit, Wetmore, Martinez, and Bexar community bowling clubs, along with the Turnverein and Bexar bowling clubs of San Antonio, maintain the only active ninepin leagues in the United States.

Austin American-Statesman, September 18, 1984. William R. Hogan, "Amusements in the Republic of Texas," Journal of Southern History 3 (November 1937). Mary Lou LeCompte, "Ninepins: A Game for the Texas Centennial," TAHPERD Journal 54 (February 1986). Joseph William Schmitz, Texas Culture in the Days of the Republic (San Antonio: Naylor, 1960).


  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Sports and Recreation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Lou LeCompte, “Ninepin Bowling,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 28, 2022,

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May 1, 1995
April 23, 2016