Who invented softball? Although one man came up with a version of the game in 1887, another modified the game in 1895. A young Chicago gentleman, George Hancock, is considered the inventor of the game. Minneapolis firefighter Lewis Rober also made strides in shaping softball’s history.
In the Beginning
On Thanksgiving Day in 1887, a group of alumni of both Harvard and Yale Universities met at the Farragut Boat Club in Chicago. The crowd awaited the score of the traditional football classic between the two Ivy League schools. Once Yale’s win was announced, someone picked up a boxing glove and tossed it at another person, who swung at it with some type of wooden stick.
Hancock told the group that they should play a ball game. He shaped the boxing glove into a ball and tied it. Then, he mapped out the infield diamond to fit the inside of the gym. Someone grabbed a stick or broom handle to use as a bat. This faux baseball game is credited as the first softball game ever played.
Hancock wrote rules for the game and created the oversized ball so the equipment associated with the game differed from baseball. Hancock also invented a smaller rubber-tipped bat.
In 1895, Lewis Rober, a Minneapolis firefighter, wanted to find some form of activity to keep his fire crew busy and in shape. Rober modified the game of baseball to fit the dimensions of the vacant lot adjacent to the firehouse. The following year, Rober was assigned to a new fire hall and the game became known as Kitten Ball, in honor of Rober’s team’s name: the Kittens.
Did Rober borrow the idea from Hancock’s invention? Probably not. Hancock’s adaptation of softball was limited to the Chicago area and it is unlikely Rober was aware of the game.
No matter which man invented softball, their ingenuity helped shape America’s most popular participation sport.