The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2018)
A bowling alley (also known as a bowling center, bowling lounge, bowling arena, or historically bowling club) is a facility where the sport of bowling is played. It can be a dedicated facility or part of another, such as a clubhouse or dwelling house.
By the late 1830s, the Knickerbocker Hotel's bowling alley had opened, with three lanes. Instead of wood, this indoor alley used clay for the bowling lane. By 1850, there were more than 400 bowling alleys in New York City, which earned it the title "bowling capital of North America". Because early versions of bowling were difficult and there were concerns about gambling, the sport faltered. Several cities in the United States regulated bowling due to its association with gambling.
In the late 19th century, bowling was revived in many U.S. cities. Alleys were often located in saloon basements and provided a place for working-class men to meet, socialize, and drink alcohol. Bars were and still are a principal feature of bowling alleys. The sport remained popular during the Great Depression and, by 1939, there were 4,600 bowling alleys across the United States. New technology was implemented in alleys, including the 1952 introduction of automatic pinsetters (or pinspotters), which replaced pin boys who manually placed bowling pins. Today, most bowling alley facilities are operated by Bowlero Corporation or Brunswick Bowling & Billiards.
Bowling alleys often had a negative image, as shown in this 1836 editorial portraying bowling alleys as "drunkeries" that were "visited by a set of as miserably profane, drunken, worthless chaps as can be found".
Cutaway view looking horizontally: Adjusting screws at the sides of bowling lanes in this 1895 cross-sectional diagram allow the lanes to be made flat and level, to ensure repeatable ball reaction.
This true-scale diagram shows how a bowling lane has an approach, a foul line, target arrows, downlane markers, and a pin deck. Due to an optical illusion called foreshortening, the lane is more elongated than most people imagine—more than 17.3 times as long as it is wide.
Bowling alleys contain long and narrow synthetic or wooden lanes. The number of lanes inside a bowling alley is variable. The Inazawa Grand Bowl in Japan is the largest bowling alley in the world, having 116 lanes.
Human pinsetters were used at bowling alleys to set up the pins, but modern ten-pin bowling alleys have automatic mechanical pinsetters.
Each lane has an overhead monitor/television screen to display bowling scores as well as a seating area and tables for dining and socializing.
With a decades-long decline in league participation, modern bowling alleys usually offer other games (often billiard tables, darts and arcade games) and may serve food or beverages, usually via vending machines or an integrated bar or restaurant. Pro shops and party rooms are common.
- "Bowling" (PDF). Spalding's Athletic Library. Vol. 1, no. 3. New York: American Sports Publishing Company. December 1892. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 27, 2020.
- "Communicated - Bowling Alleys". Morning Herald. New York. June 18, 1838. p. 5. (edition of New York Daily Herald) (clipping)
- Steven A. Riess (26 March 2015). Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century. Routledge. ISBN 9781317459477. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
- "The History of Bowling". bowlingballs.us. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
- Goldsmith, Margie (November 28, 2016). "America's Coolest Bowling Alleys". Travel + Leisure. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- "Drunkeries". Fall River Monitor and Weekly Recorder. Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S. October 8, 1836. p. 2. (clipping)
- "Evasions of Law". Logansport Telegraph. Logansport, Indiana, U.S. March 10, 1838. p. 1.
- "Bowling Catalog E". Gutenberg.org. Narragansett Machine Company. 1895. Archived from the original on July 1, 2018. Project Gutenberg release date: June 16, 2018.
- Data: Wayback Machine archives of USBC's bowl.com website. Links provided on Wikimedia's image page (2019-04-03 archive thereof)
- Mautner, Rob. "Stop, Look, and Listen to the Lanes!". Bowling This Month. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Guinness World Records confirms Inazawa Grand Bowl world's largest Bowling Center