Of all the great names associated with bowling and the billion-dollar industry that it makes possible, none is more important than Brunswick. Without Brunswick’s stalwart support and stable influence over the past 100 years, bowling could simply not have attained the level of popularity and profitability it enjoys today.
Meanwhile, bowling has had just as profound an impact on Brunswick. At several key points in its history, the company leveraged the success of the bowling industry it was creating in order to expand and diversify into other businesses. That strategy worked to turn Brunswick into the $3.7 billion powerhouse it is today – a leader not only in bowling but also in recreational boating, marine power, billiards and fitness equipment that has been traded on the NYSE since 1924.
Moses Bensinger – son-in-law of Brunswick founder J.M. Brunswick – got the bowling ball rolling in America shortly after becoming the company’s president. Brunswick first opened in 1845 and originally focused on making wooden goods from horse carriages to billiard tables. Moses led Brunswick into a new Promised Land during the 1890s, manufacturing wooden bowling lanes, pins and balls. He was the game’s biggest booster at the time. Bensinger believed that bowling had a bright future but feared the game’s lack of standardized rules and equipment was holding it back.
For years he pleaded this case eloquently, bombarding America’s top bowling proprietors with letters. Bensinger finally managed to gather a group of VIPs in New York in September 1895 for what became the first meeting of the American Bowling Congress (ABC). Six years later, Bensinger headed up America’s first national bowling tournament, with a top prize of $1,200 – a princely sum in that day. It was no surprise that Brunswick supplied all of the equipment for the first ABC tourney, and continued doing so for the next 40 years.
Brunswick went on to innovate several breakthroughs that literally reshaped the game and business of bowling throughout the 20th century. Mineralite, introduced by Brunswick in 1906, was the world’s first hard-rubber bowling ball. It quickly outmoded wooden bowling balls of that era. Mineralite also popularized custom ball-drilling, which made bowling more comfortable and attracted legions of new players, notably women. Likewise, the lighter Mineralite Junior opened the game to countless young bowlers for the first time.
During the 1940-50s, Brunswick struck again, this time redesigning entire bowling centers to make them more appealing. Company architects specified comfortable chairs arranged in semi-circles to replace clunky wooden spectator benches, and Brunswick added fl ashes of color to brighten up these drab halls, including its new flaming-red Fireball.
Perhaps Brunswick’s greatest-ever contribution to bowling was the blockbuster introduction of its automatic pinsetter. These marvelous machines revolutionized the bowling industry and remade Brunswick itself. The company had bet the house on its pinsetter gambit. And it used the huge payback to diversify into other business lines that define Brunswick Corporation to this day.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. In 1962, just a few years into the boom, bowling went bust. Bowling centers left and right were defaulting on their debts. In lieu of repossessing thousands of recently sold pinsetters, Brunswick struck deals with numerous bowling centers to manage their operations or even buy out failing centers.
By 1970, the new Brunswick Recreation Center Division had taken over more than 250 centers worldwide.
Over the last several decades, the company’s preeminent position in bowling has been evident time and time again. Brunswick has continued to introduce truly game changing new products, including the first automatic scorers. It championed the rise of bowling around the world, opening scores of American-style bowling centers as far away as Japan, the Netherlands, Brazil and Australia. Back at home, Brunswick has been busy reinventing the bowling industry once again by leading the charge with innovative business models that are now sweeping America.
Brunswick has certainly been good for bowling – and the reverse is equally true. Brunswick simply means bowling like nobody else. Always has. Always will.