In April of 1912, a squash court went down with the Titanic.
The history of squash is filled with many interesting nuggets of information like that one. Often, and especially in the early days of the game, squash was played in “upper-crust” locations from renowned private schools and colleges to exclusive private men’s clubs. So in some ways, it’s no surprise that the game was played on that world-famous ship.
Squash was first played in the 1860s by boys at the Harrow School in England. The boys took a small rubber ball — something that we take for granted today but was then only just becoming available — and, using racquets, hit the ball off the walls of their school courtyards and alleys. Squash was typically played by underclassmen who didn’t yet have the seniority or skills to play Racquets, the preferred game at the time.
Squash spread to the US in 1884, when St. Paul’s, a private boarding school in New Hampshire, built four open-air squash courts. The game also took hold at Harvard, with two courts being built in 1908. From there it spread to private men’s clubs in Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Gradually, the game spread southward and westward in the US, and began to catch on with a wider audience.
By the 1950s, the squash had spread throughout the world. The most dramatic example of this worldwide growth was the arrival of Hashim Khan on the international squash scene. Born in a small village in Pakistan, Hashim had an informal job as a ballboy at the courts of a local British Officer’s Club. He honed his game, eventually landing a job as the local squash pro. In 1951, Pakistan sent Hashim to play in the British Open, the most prestigious tournament in the world at that time. He crushed the competition, winning the tournament with ease.
The game has had many twists and turns, not to mention colorful characters, over the years. If you’re interested in reading more about the history of squash, I recommend James Zug’s Squash: A History of the Game. It’s cool to see how squash came close to extinction — a few times — before eventually thriving.
The book focuses on the early history of the game in England, and then moves onto the development of the game in North America. If you’re looking for more in-depth coverage of squash in other countries, this might not be the best book for you. Of course there’s much discussion of squash players from outside the U.S., since squash is a global game and many of the great players to play in North America were born overseas. And any squash player will appreciate the stories about the origins of the game.