The earliest known softball game was played in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. It took place at the Farragut Boat Club at a gathering to hear the outcome of the Yale University and Harvard University football game. When the score was announced and bets were settled, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The Harvard fan grabbed a stick and swung at the rolled up glove. George Hancock, a reporter there, called out "Play ball!" and the game began, with the boxing glove tightened into a ball, a broom handle serving as a bat. This first contest ended with a score of 41–40. The ball, being soft, was fielded barehanded.
George Hancock is credited as the game's inventor for his development of a 17" ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders. Envisioned as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the winter, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball". Under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", the game moved outside in the next year, and the first rules were published in 1889.
In 1895 Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball (after the first team to play it), lemon ball, or diamond ball. Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches (30 cm) in circumference, rather than the 16-inch (41 cm) ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules. Fire Station No. 19 in Minneapolis, Rober's post from 1896 to 1906, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in part for its association with the sport's development. The first softball league outside the United States was organized in Toronto in 1897.
The name "softball" dates back to 1926. The name was coined by Walter Hakanson of the YMCA at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. (In addition to "indoor baseball", "kitten ball", and "diamond ball", names for the game included "mush ball", and "pumpkin ball".) The name softball had spread across the United States by 1930. By the 1930s, similar sports with different rules and names were being played all over the United States and Canada. By 1936, the Joint Rules Committee on Softball had standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States.
Sixteen-inch softball, also sometimes referred to as "mush ball" or "super-slow pitch" (although the ball is not soft at all), is a direct descendant of Hancock's original game. Defensive players are not allowed to wear fielding gloves. Sixteen-inch softball is played extensively in Chicago, where devotees such as the late Mike Royko consider it the "real" game, and New Orleans. In New Orleans, sixteen-inch softball is called "Cabbage Ball" and is a popular team sport in area elementary and high schools.
By the 1940s, fast pitch began to dominate the game. Although slow pitch was present at the 1933 World's Fair, the main course of action taken was to lengthen the pitching distance. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fast pitch in popularity.
The first British women's softball league was established in 1953.
The National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum was opened in Oklahoma City, United States in 1957.
In 1991, women's fast pitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball. The IOC funded a landmark biomechanical study on pitching during the games.
In 2002, sixteen-inch slow pitch was written out of the International Softball Federation (ISF) official rules, although it is still played extensively in the United States under The Amateur Softball Association of America, or ASA rules.
The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2012 Summer Olympics. They were reinstated for the 2020 Summer Olympics held in 2021.
Other sanctioning bodies of softball are AAU, NSA, PONY, Babe Ruth League, ASA, ISC, USSSA and Triple Crown.
1. Maag, Al. "Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame / History". 16inchsoftballhof.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 16" Softball History – Chicago's Game
2. "The History of Softball. Who Invented Softball?".
3. "The History of Softball". International Softball Federation. Archived from the original on December 12, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
4. Chicago History Museum, "Wait Til Next Year" display
5. "History of Softball". SoftballPerformance.com. Archived from the original on January 9, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2009.
6. David Levinson & Karen Christensen, ed. (1996). Encyclopedia of World Sports. London & New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 371–73. ISBN 0-19-512778-1.
7. "Softball started in Minnesota — or did it? While baseball has storied Cooperstown, N.Y., as its birthplace, softball's creation began at Minneapolis Fire Station No. 19 — now a Buffalo Wild Wings on University Avenue SE. near Williams Arena.' by Curt Brown, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 17, 2017
8. ""Minneapolis Fire Department Invents Game of Softball - 1895," excerpt from Mill City Firefighters, pub. EAATC, 1981". Archived from the original on 2018-08-26. Retrieved 2017-06-19.
9. Mack, Robert C. (1979-07-16). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Fire Station No. 19". National Park Service. Retrieved 2014-11-29.
10. Inventions and Discoveries 1993. Facts on File. 1993. p. 127. ISBN 0-8160-2865-6.
11. "Softball as I See It," by Vincent Farrell, in The Journal of Health and Physical Education,, 1940 - Physical Education and Training
12. "Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame". Retrieved 2010-06-12.
13. Newman, Craig. "Mike Royko holds court at the Billy Goat on softball". Archived from the original on 2010-05-02. Retrieved 2010-06-12.
14. "The 117th IOC Session in Singapore – A Summary". Singapore National Olympic Council. Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
15. "Baseball/Softball | Olympic Sport". Tokyo 2020. Retrieved 2021-07-21.