Some claim bowling is the first sport in recorded history. Bowling-type pins and balls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 5200 B.C. Some Polynesian cultures practiced a kind of bowling game with a "lane" size of sixty feet, the same length as modern ten-pin lanes! Many forms of bowling were also practiced in ancient North America. People of the southwest used to roll wooden balls at "pins" made from corn cobs.

The modern game derives from the monasteries of early medieval Germany. The monks took the ancient game played by the pagan German tribes people and gave it a Christian flavour. The monks used a pin called a "kegel" to represent the devil, and evil in general. The congregation was called upon to hit the target, thus showing themselves to be pure and free of sin.

Martin Luther, creator of the Protestant movement, undertook a study to standardize the game. The number of pins was fixed at nine, and bowling became an important part of German culture. Indeed, children were taught that thunderstorms were due to St. Peter and the angels bowling.

Bowling alleys became places to unlawfully assemble and plot against the government. The sport also attracted gamblers and other less acceptable members of society. Bowling was declared illegal and denounced by Puritanical religious leaders as a path away from righteousness, quite opposite from it's beginnings in the German cloisters.