The bowling ball that went around the world

May 29, 2012

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Brunswick is an old Chicago company. They began as a manufacturer of billiards equipment, then branched out into bowling. In 1914 they came up with a new advertising stunt. They were going to send a bowling ball around the world.

People didn’t travel much in 1914–not even 50 miles, let alone around the world. But there were YMCAs in all the British colonies. Brunswick's plan was to ship one of their new Mineralite model balls from one YMCA to another, and the ball would circle the globe that way.

Simple–and great publicity. People would read about the ball as it moved from one place to the next. When it got back to America, Brunswick would then put it on display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

Brunswick Mineralite #391914 left Chicago for San Francisco by train on May 28, 1914, and arrived on the West Coast two days later. After a bowling match at the YMCA, the ball went back across the U.S. to New York.

At New York the ball was put on a ship bound for London. The ball reached London, and there was a ceremony at the YMCA. Next the ball was off to Berlin, for the big international bowling tournament.

Now things got complicated.

While the ball was making its way to Berlin, war broke out between Britain and Germany–a little scrap called World War One. The Brunswick ball arrived in Berlin, and the Germans were suspicious. Most of them had never seen a big, American-style bowling ball. They thought it was a bomb. They sent it back.


Somehow, the ball wound up in Paris. It sat around for a few months, then back it went to London. Since it was obvious the ball couldn't travel through the war zone–it was supposed to go through Berlin, Vienna, and Rome–the Brits put it on a boat for India.
 
In November, the Mineralite got to Bombay. Another YMCA ceremony, and then the ball was put on another boat heading for Sidney, Australia. And that boat sank! The world tour was all over.
 
But no–it turned out that the ball had missed the boat that sank. It was still safe in India!
 
Anyway, the ball eventually got to Australia, and from there it went across the Pacific to San Francisco. And in May 1915, the world-traveling bowling ball was proudly displayed at the Brunswick booth at the Panama-Pacific Exposition.
 
Then the fair closed, and after all that trouble, they lost the ball! It was missing for 19 years. But in 1934, #391914 was discovered in a warehouse, a little dusty but otherwise intact. And then that historic Mineralite finally came home to Chicago, just in time for our Century of Progress fair.
 
Where is that famous bowling ball now? You guessed it–it's disappeared again. And I suspect it won't turn up until someone has another world's fair.