The Kings of the Rings: Stories from the VFW National Marble Tournaments 1947-1962
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|The game of marbles has been around since the beginning of play. Archeological sites around the world have yielded small round objects of stone, clay, and wood. Many of the sites were graves of children, indicating they were of value to their owners. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, marbles grew in popularity. Marbles was a game that transcended economic, ethnic, and gender lines. While generally regarded as a "boys' game," girls and boys played together on playgrounds and empty lots. It didn't require much equipment-only a few marbles, an open place, and a child's imagination. It could be played outdoors or indoors. Rules and the games played were determined locally by the children playing the game. Any disagreements about either were settled by the players. No formal rules existed until the twentieth century.
In the United States, marbles were impacted by the Industrial Revolution. As families moved from farms to cities, the children took their marbles with them. Children of factory workers and factory owners could be found in the same game. Organized marble tournaments began popping up in cities across the United States in the 1920s, sponsored by local newspapers, civic organizations, or recreation departments. In 1922, the first National Marble Tournament was organized in Wildwood, New Jersey. By 1925, the national tournament hosted representatives from more than forty cities across the country. The popularity of marbles continued to grow through the 1930s. World War II led to a suspension of national marble tournaments.
The national Veterans of Foreign Wars decided to make local and national marble tournaments one of their national youth programs in 1947. Several social factors may have contributed to the program development:
Troops returning from World War II. The marble tournament offered a chance for the returning servicemen to integrate into local society upon their return.
Offering a positive male influence to postwar boys. Many boys born after 1930 had grown up without a positive male influence in their lives. Organized marble tournaments at local and city levels provided the youth with that positive male role model.
Familiarity with the game. The game of marbles had a long history in the United States dating back to the early 1800s. Many VFW members had played marbles as children, and it easily translated to a popular national activity.
Charles Ralls, the VFW commander-in-chief in 1951, addressed the reasons for the marble program. He wrote:
The game of marbles helps teach the important requirements for good citizenship. It might be well if a lot of grownups learned to play the game.
To reach the marble championship class one has to develop persistence and calm judgement. One has to have skill and a determination to do the job well. Also, the game of marbles calls for fair play and right attitudes. Every player is as good as his shooting. A good loser always comes up smiling…
Every boy should be given the right to prove his best qualities-regardless of religious, racial or social status.
Local, state, and national VFW members spent many hours sponsoring, organizing, and conducting marble tournaments so young men could learn sportsmanship, persistence, calm judgment, determination, fair play, and good attitudes when facing adversity.