Foosball – also known as table soccer or table football – has been around and enjoyed for over 100 years. We know that its name ‘foosball’ is an American corruption of the German word for football. But have you ever wondered: who invented foosball? Asking this question yields three potential answers. The game’s origins are hard to trace definitively, but we are pretty sure we can thank either Lucien Rosengart, Harold Searles Thornto or Alejandro Finisterre. It is possible that all three of these men invented the foosball table and game independently. Sounds interesting? Continue reading to learn more about the beginnings of this great pastime.
If you are reading this, you likely already know what foosball is – but the history is a little complicated and somewhat unclear.
The Early Days: Europe
What we know for sure is that foosball was invented in Europe. The three potential inventors of table football lived in the United Kingdom, France and Spain, and they loved soccer (football) so much that they wanted to make a miniature version of the game. Thanks to them, people nowadays can have and play a mini football game at home. Let’s learn more about these foos men.
Harold Searles Thornton
Harold Searles Thorton patented the first ever foosball table in the United Kingdom in 1921. In the past, there were similar game patents however this was the first of the table ball games with the same core playing features as those we know today.
After one of the matches of his favorite soccer club – Tottenham Hotspurs from north London, England – he got an idea to find a way to do something for them. So he made a miniature version of a foosball table out of a box of matches. If you look at his version of a foosball table, you will notice that it has eight rods and 22 players.
Soon, he realized this could be an amazing hit, so he patented his design, and that’s how table football was born.
Interesting fact: the longest foosball table ever made was over 120 meters long!
Rosengart was a French automotive designer who guided his company, Automobiles L. Rosengart, through decades of production. He had many grandchildren, and during long winter days, they didn’t know what to do, so he started thinking about a solution. He subsequently had an inspired idea – he decided to make a miniature version of soccer and let his grandchildren play football games inside. The entire story happened in the 1930s, very close to when his like-minded peer from the UK did the same thing.
Alejandro Finisterre was a Spanish writer and poet known as the first man who hijacked an airliner in flight. His story about inventing table football says that he ended up in the hospital during the Spanish civil war in 1936. Children with severe leg injuries surrounded him, and he realized that they wouldn’t be able to play football games. This was the inspiration for his idea, and alongside his carpenter, Francisco Javier Artuna, he made his first foosball table.
The unconfirmed story says that he patented his table in 1937, but those papers were lost when he had to flee Spain when fascists occupied the country.
Transition To America
Lawrence Patterson from Cincinnati, Ohio, took the game from Europe to America. Today, he is known as the founding father of coin-operated table football in America. Patterson was a soldier who fell in love with the game during his time in Germany.
Table soccer didn’t become popular immediately in America. However, E. Lee Peppard took an interest in the game and decided to create his own tournament table. He soon began to host high stakes tournaments with prize money to sell his product. It was a big hit, and soon those tournaments became very popular among teenagers and young adults.
The International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) was established in 2002 in France. Their mission is to promote the game and regulate the rules of foosball. They created an official rule book to organize the foosball community and promote competitions.
Today, table soccer is known in many countries by different names:
- United States – foosball
- Germany & Russia – kicker
- Europe – table football
- France – baby foot
- Mexico – futbolito
Table Football Tournaments
Since the 1940s, The Table Football World Cup has been organized. ITSF has regulated tournaments since 2002, and although the first intention was that the World Cup should be in the same year as the FIFA World Cup, that changed in 2009 when Foosball World Cups started to be organized every year. The World Championships are also organized annually.
Competitions in Europe have been organized for a long time. For instance, the Belgium league was organized in 1950. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that the European leagues from different countries united to form the European Table Soccer Union.
These days, foosball is played worldwide – including the Middle East, South America, Oceania, Europe, North Africa and North America. Some athletes hope that one day foosball will become an Olympic sport.
To find out more about the best foosball coffee tables, click here.
Fun fact! The longest foosball game lasted 61 hours and 17 minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
The United Kingdom invented foosball. Although in two other parts of Europe simultaneously, two men created the foosball tables as well, foosball’s origins went back to London in 1921 when Harold Searles Thornton patented the game at the European patent office as “Apparatus for playing a game of table football”.
Foosball is not a German game however its name does have German roots. Although foosball history is not fully clarified, we know it wasn’t invented in Germany. Three men simultaneously created the game in other parts of Europe – in the UK, France and Spain. The name “foosball” comes from the German word “fußball”, from whence it arrived in the United States.
Harold Searles Thornton was an English man who was the first person to patent the foosball game. He got the idea for table football after a match of his favorite soccer club Tottenham Hotspurs from London. He is known as the man who is actually the closest to being called a foosball table inventor.
We hope you are no longer wondering who invented foosball! Although we may not know all the facts for sure, we know we have to thank the three fathers of table football for this fantastic game. So next time you’re shooting goals on a modern foosball table, take a moment and think about its inventors. The best thing is that the initially designed formula has changed so little in the past 100 years, making this one of the most enduring and timeless game table designs in history.