A Brief History of Table Soccer in the United States
By Kathy Brainard
Americans first became acquainted with the game of table soccer when U.S. military forces were stationed in post-war Germany. The American soldiers enjoyed the competitiveness of the game and most recreation rooms on military bases had soccer tables. One source says that the first soccer tables were imported from Germany to the United States around 1955, but the game did not gain popularity because so few people knew how to play it.
Larry Patterson, a businessman in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the first American to have a soccer table built in Germany for distribution in the United States. He introduced his table, called "Foosball"(a corruption of the German word for soccer, fussball), in 1962. Patterson sold about 13,000 Foosball tables were sold between 1962 and 1974. "Foosball" is still the common name for the game of table soccer in America today.
Other U.S. companies saw potential in the game and began importing European-made tables in the mid-60's. German tables Deutscher Meister and Leonhart came to the eastern U.S. in 1965. The Italian-made Garlando table was first imported to the U.S. in 1969 by Empire Distributing of Chicago. The first Rene Pierre table was imported from France in 1970 by Peabody's Inc. of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In the late 1960's, the first coin-operated soccer tables were manufactured in the U.S. They were the Vulcan Fussball Table made by EBSCO Amusements in New Jersey, and the Super Soccer table, which evolved into the Hurricane table, made by Irving Kaye Sales Corp. of New York, in 1969. Arizona Automation, which had been importing a German-made table since 1969, merged with Mirco Games in 1971 and began manufacturing their line of Champion Soccer tables.
The "Texas-style" soccer table first appeared in 1970 with the introduction of the Tornado table, built in Dallas, Texas. The American table built by Dallas-based Leisure Sports Systems appeared in 1972. Dynamo Corp. began manufacturing the Dynamo soccer table in a Dallas suburb in 1973.
The popularity of table soccer experienced phenomenal growth from 1972 to 1974, especially in the Northwest, the Midwest, Colorado and Texas. In May 1972, Lee Peppard ran his first big table soccer tournament on German-made tables, offering prize money of $1500 at his tavern in Missoula, Montana. In May 1973, at a $5000 tournament in Missoula, Peppard introduced his own table, manufactured in Taiwan, called Tournament Soccer.
The success of his Montana tournaments convinced Peppard that the best way to market his table was through tournament promotions. One year later, in May 1974, he organized the Tournament Soccer $50,000 International Championships--an incredible amount of money in those days. The best players from all over the U.S. attended and the winners established themselves as table soccer superstars.
From their new headquarters in Seattle, Peppard and his staff launched the first U.S. professional table soccer tour, the 1975 Tournament Soccer Quarter Million Dollar
Tour. Each year for the next five years, the Tournament Soccer tour increased in prize money, with a million dollars in cash and prizes being awarded in 1978-1979. Tournaments took place from west coast to east coast of the U.S. in luxurious ballrooms of first-class hotels. An elite group of professionals toured the country making their living by playing table soccer. From 1975 to 1980, the total prize money won by the top three players was: 1) Doug Furry, $85,000; Dan Kaiser, $77,500; Jim Wiswell, $69,200.
The glamorous years of the Tournament Soccer tours ended abruptly in 1981 when the company declared bankruptcy. Tens of thousands of Tournament Soccer tables had been sold, saturating sales in many regions. Then, video games appeared on the market in the late 1970's and their popularity took the U.S. by storm, pushing table soccer out of the taverns and arcades.
In spite of the huge nationwide success of Tournament Soccer in the 1970's, the players in the southern U.S. had remained loyal to the Texas-style table. Two leading manufacturers, Tornado Corp. and Dynamo Corp., both based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, maintained their shares of the market in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama and Georgia. In 1982, Dynamo modified their table to incorporate some of the Tournament Soccer playing characteristics and set out to gain the favor of the former Tournament Soccer players. Dynamo ran modest national tours during 1983 to 1986. In the same time, Tornado also stepped up their tournament promotions. Player associations for both tables merged in 1985 to form the USTSA, running joint world championships on both Dynamo and Tornado tables in 1985, 1986 and 1987. Dynamo then withdrew from tournament promotions and Tornado accepted the challenge of running the national pro tour from 1987 and continuing today, increasing prize money and bringing stability to the sport of professional table soccer for 25 years.
Today in the U.S., the majority of competitive players play and compete on the Tornado tables. In the southeast, however, Bonzini USA is now actively promoting the French-style of table soccer, building on the former Rene Pierre player base in the North Carolina region. A new table, the Shelti, was introduced to the U.S. market two years ago but has not yet sponsored any major tournaments.
U.S. players are now looking to the future for increased international competition through the efforts of the USTSF and the ITSF.