Home » History of Pickleball

If you’ve ever played pickleball it probably won’t surprise you that it’s an amalgam of different racket sports. It was in fact invented using excess equpment when two Bainbridge Island, WA dads were looking for a novel way to entertain their bored kids. What is surprising is how quickly pickeball grew in popularity and how a sport invented in the 1960’s on a small island is played competitvly all over the world today.

Details of the sport’s origin are debated. Most commonly 1965 is cited as the year pickleball was invented. However, there are differing accounts by those who were there. First-hand accounts vary–anywhere from 1963 to 1966.

Origin of the name “Pickleball”

Where did the name “pickleball” come from? There are two competing stories for how this sport got its funny name:

Version 1: Pickles the Dog

Pickles was inventor one of the iventors, Joel Prichard’s, family dog. The story goes that Pickles would chase stray pickleballs into the bushes and run off with them. The game had no official name for several years. The inventors had no idea the game would even stick around past the first summer.

Once the game was a mainstay on summer vacations it was clear it needed a name. Ultimately, the inventors and their families decided on the name “Pickleball” in tribute to the beloved family dog.

Version 2: The Pickle Boat

The second account comes from Joel Prichard’s wife, Joan. She says the name came from the term “pickle boat.” A pickle boat is the last boat to finish a race. In rowing, the pickle boat is usually made up of leftover oarsmen from other teams. Joan remarked how pickleball was made up of the leftovers of other sports. Gradually the inventors started calling the game “pickle ball” and the name stuck.

The Prichard’s daughter, Peggy, was quoted saying “It was not named after the dog because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started.” However, in a recent interview creator Barney McCallum, said “Everyone involved knows the name came from the dog.”

The second version is not as simple of a story to tell. After our research it seems more likely that pickleball is named after the “pickle boat” and not the dog. Anyone who as been to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, where pickleball was invented, has seen the rowers who frequently practice there. Bainbridge loves its water sports including sailing, motor boating, and rowing.

The inventors of pickleball were business men and politicians. They knew how to tell a good story. Pickleball’s success is based on the inventors’ abilities to spread the game. When you introduce someone to pickleball, one of their first questions is always “What is that name?” It is easier to say the game is named after a family pet than trying to explain what a “pickle boat” is.

Based on multiple accounts online, it seems the dog-origin store may have been fabricated. But it is a good story 🙂

The Inventors of Pickleball

Pickleball was invented by three fathers: Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, William Bell.


Portrait of Joel Prichard
Joel M. Prichard, U.S. Congressman and co-inventor of pickleball.

Joel Pritchard is the best known of the three founders. Joel was a six-term U.S. Congressman from 1973 to 1985. He later served as Lieutenant Governor of Washington. Through the 1960’s when Pickleball was invented, Joel severed in the Washington State House of Representatives and the Washington State Senate. Joel also served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946.

Pickleball was invested at Joel’s house on Bainbridge Island. Joel died of lymphoma on October 9, 1997. Joel Pritchard is an inaugural member of the Pickleball Hall of Fame and was inducted in 2017.


Barney McCallum worked with Joel Pritchard at the Griffin Envelope Company in Seattle and were neighbors on Bainbridge Island in the summer. Barney played an instrumental part in developing the rules of pickleball and sharing the sport.

After the first summer when pickleball when invented Barney and his family moved back to Magnolia, a neighborhood north of Seattle, for the winter. After playing the in the street, Barney eventually built a court at his house. There they refined the rules. For example, an early rule change was to move the Non-Volley Zone from six feet to seven feet from the net.

Barney was integral in taking pickleball from a family game on Bainbridge Island to a nationwide sport. Barney created Pickle-ball Inc. in 1972, the first company to sell pickleball equipment. He sold the first pickleball sets out of his house for $29.50.


William Bell as a successful businessman and neighbors with Joel and Barney on Bainbridge. Bill helped to invent the game that fateful summer afternoon on Bainbridge. Bell was also one of the original founders of Pickle-ball Inc. which first sold pickleball equipment.

Bainbridge Island: The birthplace of Pickleball

Bainbridge ferry with Olympic Mountains in the background
The Bainbridge Ferry runs all day between downtown Seattle and Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island.

Bainbridge is a short 35 minute ferry from downtown Seattle. The sleepy island is known for its boating culture. Sailboat pack the two marinas in Eagle Harbor. The island has a population of around 23,000 who live there year round.

Bainbridge is a summer vacation home for many, including Amazon and Microsoft executives today. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were vacationing on Bainbridge Island with their families in 1965 when they invented Pickleball.

Sailboats and motor boats moored in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island.

Pickleball Timeline and Highlights

1965 – Pickleball invented on Bainbridge Island. The exact year is debated. Some accounts say the game was invented as early as 1963 or as late as 1966.

1967 – Barney McCallum builds the first permanent court in his neighbors backyard in Magnolia, Seattle

1972 – Pickle-ball Inc. is formed to sell pickleball starter kits out of Barney McCallum’s house

1976 – The first pickleball tournament takes place in Tukwila, Washington

1984 – The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed and published the first official rulebook

1984 – The first graphite paddle is made by Arlen Paranto, an engineer at Boeing

1990 – Pickleball now played in all 50 states

1997 – Joel Pritchard, U.S. Congressman and co-inventor of pickleball, passes away at 72.

2008 – There are now over 400 places to play pickleball throughout the US and Canada

2017 – Pickleball Hall of Fame created. Joel Pritchard and Barney McCallum are inducted among others

2019 – There are over 2.6 million pickleball players in the US with over 7,200 locations to play across the US, Canada, Europe, and the world.

References

  1. http://pugetsoundblogs.com/bainbridge-conversation/2009/01/16/the-doggone-lies-about-pickleball/
  2. https://blog.pickleballcentral.com/2017/01/17/lunch-with-barney-mccallum/
  3. Photos provided by Wikipedia

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