February 9th – On This Day in History

On this day in 1895, William G. Morgan invented a new game known as Mintonette. Who cares, you say? Never heard of it, you retort? Well perhaps you’ll change you’re tune when I reveal that Mintonette is actually an antiquated title for the (semi) popular game of volleyball!

Ah ha! I’ve got you excited now, don’t I? Yes, it’s true. Volleyball was invented on this day more than 100 years ago. The story goes like this:

Mr. William G. Morgan was a YMCA director in Holyoke, Massachusetts at the time (he’s dead now). Just three years prior, the game of Peach Ball (now basketball) was invented by another young YMCA director in nearby Springfield, MA. This man’s name was Dr. James Naismith (indeed, the infamous Dr. J).

As we all know, Naismith’s invention was sweeping the nation at the time. But what you may not know is that the success of Peach Ball was also earning Dr. J a considerable number of Smith & Wesson revolvers.* Desperate to get his hands on some firearms of his own (so he could kill Naismith, among others), Morgan set out to invent his own new sport.

Taking inspiration from tennis, handball, baseball and frequent cocaine snorts, Morgan eventually succeeded in developing a new game that was both unique and enjoyable. However, it should be noted that the original rules of the game were quite different from what we now consider volleyball. Most notably, the game originally called for each player’s limbs to be tethered to a series of ropes suspended from the ceiling. From above, the team leader (dubbed the “Minton”) would dictate the movements of the team as if they were marionettes (thus the initial name of the sport: Mintonette).

For obvious reasons, the use of ropes was short-lived, lasting only 23 years before the team leader was repositioned to the floor. Other early rules of the sport include:

  • Matches consisted of 9 innings, hitting the ball into the net was a foul and serves were performed with a baseball bat.
  • The ball was constructed from pigskin pulled tightly around the head of a pig.
  • Court dimensions were smaller, the net was taller and out-of-bounds was a moat filled with cow dung.

    Morgan displays proper bee closet etiquette
    Morgan displays proper bee closet etiquette
  • Players were subject to penalties for double-fault serves, which required a 2-minute timeout in the “Bee Closet.”
  • The game was played on a trampoline.

Despite these early differences, the YMCA immediately heralded the game as a success. Mintonette (renamed in 1896) quickly became popular among older people and females of all ages because the game was low-impact and required virtually no athletic skill whatsoever.

For his efforts, William G. Morgan received his first of several Smith & Wesson revolvers on November 1, 1895. The very next day, he proudly brandished it in the face of James Naismith before killing him (among others).

In his later life, Morgan would attempt to invent a slew of other new sports, but all proved to be complete and utter failures. Some worth mentioning include Tug Ball, Really Soft Ball, Monkey Polo and Soccer. This series of failures would eventually drive Morgan to retire to a small farm in 1927, where he lived in seclusion and spent most of his time tending to his very own personal “bee closet.” Sadly, no one would ever see the man known as William G. Morgan again.**

*In a partnership with the locally owned gunsmith, the Massachusetts YMCA chapter handed out firearms to board-voted employees of the month from 1892 to 1897.
**However, his alter-ego, Sorcerer Sting, continued to wreak havoc along the east coast of the United States until at least 1931. For more info, please see How To Be A Beekeeper.

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