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TENNIS: HISTORICALLY SPEAKING

By Hollis Smith

The modern game of tennis as we know it was initially pioneered by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who filed a patent with the British Patent Office on February 23, 1874. The game was an immediate success and spread within a matter of weeks throughout Great Britain and Ireland and around the English-speaking world soon thereafter. Wingfield attributed the widespread success of the new game to the vigorous exercise afforded for both sexes and ages.

The necessary equipment to play tennis was sold by Wingfield's agents, Messrs. French and Company at 46 Churton Street, London, S.W. The game itself contained poles, pegs, netting for the court, 4 tennis bats, a bag of balls, a mallet and brush and an instruction booklet for tennis.

The initial layout for Wingfield's tennis court was an hourglass shape. The service lines were 26 feet from the net and the 33 feet wide net extended 3 feet on each side and was 5 feet high on each side. The net was 5 feet at the post and 3-1/2 feet at the center. Shortly after the game was presented, there were many criticisms and suggestions offered on how to improve it. These debates led to adding many more rules and eventually to making the tennis court rectangular with the dimension and shape that we have today.

BRINGING TENNIS TO AMERICA

Tennis came to America in the summer of 1874. Some say that a young woman named Mary Outerbridge purchased her tennis set while visiting Bermuda. She introduced the game of tennis to the United States on Staten Island. Others claimed, just as stoutly, that the game of tennis was first introduced in Nahant, a summer resort Northeast of Boston. It was then, many claimed, that 22-year-old James Dwight of Boston and Harvard, had laid out a court on the front lawn of the Nahant house of his uncle William Appleton. James Dwight and his cousin, Fred Sears, wanted to try out the game that had been purchased for the Appletons by their son-in-law in London.

The four families whose sons developed American tennis—the Sears and Dwights, Boston Brahmins, and the Clarks and Taylors from Philadelphia-- had aristocratic lineages. Their upper –class codes were passed on from generation to generation through institutions such as the church, country clubs, exclusive preparatory schools, and colleges, most typically the Big Three: Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

Click here to read more about the history of Tennis and the National Public Park Association.

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