The origins of modern day table tennis are unclear as it appears to have evolved from four different sources. Although we use the terms ‘whiff-waff’, ‘ping-pong’ and table tennis interchangeably, they were in fact invented by different people.

The game Gossima, registered by Jacques in 1891, is similar to modern day table tennis. The game was played by knocking a cork ball wrapped in cotton, over a 30cm high net attached to the dining table, using drum rackets.

Ping-Pong became a registered trademark on 20 September 1900, and was the property of the Hamley brothers, who later went into business with Jacques. Jacques began marketing a version of the game as ‘Gossima or Ping-Pong’, then later shortened to just ‘Ping-Pong’. Whiff-Waff was registered by Slazenger & Sons on 31 December 1900. Little is known about the game, as the trademark register simply states that it is a ‘new game’.

So it would seem that Ping-Pong was certainly invented before Whiff-Waff. However, this does not settle the argument over the origins of table tennis tables and the game of micro tennis played on them. The game appears to have been invented twice over in 1890, a full year before Jacques registered Gossima as a trademark, and 10 years before the terms ‘Whiff-Waff’ and ‘Ping-Pong’ were coined.

David Foster filed for a patent in July 1890, for a contraption comprised of a felt table covering, a central net, and surrounding fences. No name is given for the device, but its purpose was to enable miniature versions of popular sports such as tennis and football to be played on a regular dining table.

A month later Emma Baker patented a net for use in game of indoor lawn tennis on a table. She patented the same design in the US a year later, and the product was marketed by Spalding & Brothers, under the name ‘Indoor Tennis’.

Regardless of who we credit with the invention of table tennis, whether we call it ‘Ping-Pong’ or ‘Whiff-Waff’, it is certainly true that the first table tennis tables were actually dining tables cleared of crockery and covered with felt.

Formal recognition of the sport was gained in 1926, after meetings held in Berlin and London led to the International Table Tennis Federation. (ITTF) being formed.

The modern style rackets consisting of a wooden body, covered with sponge, followed by an outer rubber layer, were introduced in the 1950s by sporting goods manufacturer S.W. Hancock Ltd. These revolutionized the game by allowing for more spin and speed.

For decades the game evolved to become faster, incorporating lighter celluloid balls, and quicker rackets. Since the sport’s Olympic debut at the 1988 Seoul Games, changes have been made to slow the game back down again. In a professional level match the ball can travel at 150km, making it pretty hard to follow as a spectator.

Over more than one hundred years table tennis has evolved from a saloon game for genteel Victorians, to a fast paced Olympic sport requiring dedicated table tennis tables, scientifically designed rackets, and super-quick reaction times. These changes have brought about more fans every year, with more than 40 million people playing table tennis competitively worldwide, and countless more enjoying it as a leisure activity.