USA Table Tennis

History of U.S. Table Tennis - Volume I: 1928-1939 by Tim Boggan

Chapter IV: 1933: Formation of the United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA).

"Gee, fellows, I see
A day there will be
When we will be free
From monopoly!

The I.T.T.F.
Will recognize me;
In world championships
I’m a-going to be!

Happy days are here,
Dictatorship’s past--
An association
Of our own at last!

It’s great to know
We’ll ask what we please,
And needn’t cater
On bended knees."

--Harry Auslander, 1930, 1931 Philadelphia City Champ

and Business Manager of the embryonic Table Tennis Topics, sharing his "vision"

In the fall of 1933 the divide between the American Ping-Pong Association and not just the New York Table Tennis Association but the rest of U.S. Table Tennis became historically clear. Other "outlaw" Associations began to form--the Illinois TTA (Oct. 2), the Indiana TTA (Oct. 3), the St. Louis TTA (Oct. 6), and, having greatly expanded, the largest of them all, the New Jersey TTA (Oct. 3).

At Philadelphia, on Oct. 10, the New Jersey, Illinois, and Philadelphia TTAs, representing, along with " many smaller associations and clubs," at least 1500 players, signed Articles of Agreement to form the non-commercial, player-controlled United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA).

In brief, these Articles of Agreement stressed that the USTTA, a non-profit organization with a 7-member Executive Committee (later, for a time, enlarged when more sectional groups became members), should be made up not of individual members but member organizations dedicated to "amateur play" in a "sportsmanlike" manner. These member organizations "shall be local table tennis clubs of at least five individual members each, and larger sectional table tennis associations composed of local clubs...." Where possible, local clubs "shall affiliate with the larger sectional association....Each member organization shall be entitled to one vote for each one of its paid-up individual members....Each member organization, after a majority vote, shall cast all its votes in one unit." Each member organization is to pay a 10 cents membership fee for each of its members (TTT, Oct., 1933, 3).

An addition proposed by the Philadelphia TTA that "Persons who gain their livelihood or any part of it through playing table tennis or making or selling table tennis equipment may be admitted to membership in the USTTA or its member organizations and may compete in organized play, but they shall not hold office or vote" was quickly adopted by the USTTA. Within a year or so, however, other additions provided exceptions to this rule. The USTTA or any of its member organizations could pay a salary to an Executive Secretary; and even a USTTA member making money at table tennis could vote.

Since now Parker Brothers was faced with a far more formidable opponent than the NYTTA, one in fact that within a year would bring about the APPA’s total collapse, it behooves us to ask, Who, more than anyone else, was responsible for organizing this rival USTTA? How did it come about?

Let’s let 1940’s Table Tennis Historians Louis E. Laflin, Jr. and Peter W. Roberts begin with their view:

"...[1932] saw the beginning of an organized opposition to Ping Pong because of the restraints placed on its play by the manufacturers of its equipment. Mr. Thomas C. Bradley of Drexel Park, Pennsylvania, president of the Security Banknote Co., had organized one of the earliest playing groups in Philadelphia. On a business trip to Washington [D.C.], he learned from a chance acquaintance of the revolt in Europe from similar control by Hamley Bros., English licensee of Parker Bros. Upon being elected president of the Philadelphia Table Tennis Association, Mr. Bradley got in touch with the ITTF...which [had] excluded the United States because of [APPA] continuing commercial control..." (TTT, Mar., 1948, 7).

Before continuing with Laflin/Roberts, I want to make a few clarifying points. As we’ve seen, the strong NYTTA opposition to the APPA was formed not in 1932 but in Sept., 1931. And the revolt, in England particularly, was not against Hamley Bros. but Jaques who, except in the U.S., had the world-wide rights to the trademark name "Ping-Pong." Montagu, the power behind the ITTF, had been in contact with the New York Metropolitan PPA and had given them some provisional ITTF standing before the Sept., 1931 breakaway of the NYTTA. Thereafter of course the ITTF transferred their allegiance to the NYTTA, but, because this Association didn’t represent the country as a whole, the Federation charged them only half the membership fee to be a member "in good standing." The 1931-32 inroads made by the rebelling New Yorkers may have encouraged Tom Bradley and Carl Zeisberg to act. After Bradley had not been able to persuade Parker Brothers to use lightweight balls and allow players to use rackets of their own choice, did he and Zeisberg, in pushing for a U.S. Association, do what some in the NYTTA had wanted to do but felt was beyond them? After all, Montagu’s advice to NYTTA General Secretary Joel had been that not just a state but a national association was needed. It’s likely, however, that the great majority of New York players, if they had to be governed at all, preferred simply to be self-governed. In which case the Pennsylvanians’ "usurping" action in setting up the USTTA wouldn’t have sat so well with the independent-minded NYTTA.

In truth, perhaps the NYTTA wasn’t particularly anxious to foster or even join the USTTA? For decades, players in many parts of the country would find New Yorkers "different"--distant, unfriendly if not downright rude, and so not likeable. But, strangely, Laflin/Roberts (strongly influenced by Zeisberg? a Zeisberg who didn’t care for New Yorkers and didn’t want to acknowledge a debt to them as his breakaway forerunners?) make no mention at all of the NYTTA and its National Championships. It’s as if those in this historic movement with ties to Montagu and with their own highly organized Handbooks were invisible to them. They just move from a discussion of the APPA to the formation of the USTTA (casually mentioning "New York" in the same breath as "Milwaukee"):

"...[Bradley] also got in touch with "outlaw" Table Tennis Associations in

Chicago, Milwaukee, Newark, New York and other cities which used featherweight balls, when obtainable, and did not follow the Parker standards. In June of 1933, he and Carl Zeisberg of Glendale, Pennsylvania, formed these outlaw associations into the United States Table Tennis Association. The other founders were George O’Connell of the Illinois Table Tennis Association [who owned the Chicago Table Tennis Parlor] and Willard Rogers of Summit [who, quickly, abruptly retired as 1933-34 Vice-President] of the New Jersey Table Tennis Association..." (TTT, Mar., 1948, 7).

It seems to me that the new entity, the USTTA, doesn’t actually "form" until the signing of the Articles of Agreement in October. However, I note that the ITTF was contacted earlier (probably in June), for on July 3, 1933 Montagu acknowledged that he’d received notice of the formation of the "United States Table Tennis Association."

Certainly the concept of the USTTA had been put forward earlier, in June of ‘33, with the coming together of the U.S. Amateur TTA (which had originated in Philadelphia) and the National TTA (which had been formed in 1932 in Illinois by the Durabilt Company that was said to be amenable to player control).

However, in a Dec. 5, 1940 letter to the then Topics editor Wes Bishop, Carl Zeisberg offers this clarification:

"...The U.S. Amateur [TTA] was an organization put on paper by Tom Bradley and me in the fall of 1932 (it supplied the USTTA’s Articles of Agreement, which in turn came from a lot of correspondence). The National [TTA] was simply a sales-promotion scheme of Durabilt Steel Locker Co. that lasted only a few months (till the money ran out). As both these "associations" were largely

mythical they hardly deserve mention...."

In trying to give credit where credit is due, I want to call attention to a Jan. 20, 1949 letter to U.S. History Chair Roberts in which Zeisberg (destined one day to be in the USTTA Hall of Fame) said that it was he who applied the name "Father of American Table Tennis" to Tom Bradley. He also said that "I never would have worked for table tennis if it had not been for Tom Bradley’s inspiration and support and [that] anything I did for the game was Tom working through me."

That’s high praise indeed--the more so when you consider Philadelphia contemporary Gene Smolen’s encomium of Zeisberg. "Carl," he says, "was 90% responsible for the USTTA....He used to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars of his own money to further the sport (never asked the Association for as much as stamp money and even paid his way into tournaments as a spectator)" (TTT, Mar., 1982, 8).

In Oct., 1933, Zeisberg, in real life an Editor at the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, began putting out the official USTTA publication, the 4-page leaflet Table Tennis Topics (8 issues a year). Behind his "Kaiser Wilhelm" mustache, Zeisberg, in editorial after editorial, was an outspoken opponent of a Parker Brothers commercial monopoly. He argued that since the AP, UP, and International News Services had "barred the name p.-p. from their news dispatches," because it constituted an unfair free ad, the Sport needed to publicize the USTTA. He inveighed against USTTA members--said they cut their own throat or played a dirty trick on a friend--if they so much as bought a table, racket, or ball from those "[Parker Brothers] chiselers and parasites--enemies of the USTTA" (TTT, Dec., 1935, 2).

Naturally, as Laflin and Roberts point out, "the [APPA’s] larger and more elaborate American Ping-Pong magazine, which had started the preceding June [with Coleman Clark’s brother Robert E. Clark as its publisher]...never acknowledged or mentioned [for any of its 9 issues]...Table Tennis...while Table Tennis Topics [at least until Apr., 1934] ignored...Ping-Pong."

The Acting Secretary (elected Oct. 10, 1933) and later first President of the USTTA (elected Apr. 7, 1934) was William R. Stewart. A book publisher’s rep, he was, as I‘ve said, the author (but better credit Montagu too) of Table Tennis Tactics (1933).* Earlier, "Big Bill," a native New Yorker and Columbia University graduate, after making his home in Chicago had become Secretary of the Western PPA.


Bill Stewart, first USTTA President

Stewart would act as President of the USTTA for only one season (two actually, if you counted his previous year as Acting Secretary)--until, as he said much later in a Jan. 31, 1958 letter to Elmer Cinnater, "I finally got tired and sick of arguments. [Thereafter] I preferred to play the game for the time I could devote to it." In a follow-up letter to Cinnater, Stewart said most of his arguments were with "the late and great" Zeisberg. Carl was "wrong often...[but] would never admit it" as he went about doing "a grand job of straw bossing" the Association. Stewart apparently was one native New Yorker who didn’t much like Zeisberg (particularly when Carl was usurping Big Bill’s secretarial or presidential perogatives?). Stewart acknowledged that Carl "was unquestionably very good writing letters and spent many hours on the magazine then [when Bill was Secretary/President] and since, but after a year he thought I was sort of an errand boy and that I wasn’t."


Carl Zeisberg, second USTTA President and first magazine editor

Laflin and Roberts allow Stewart one sentence in their series of USTTA History articles in Topics, but it’s certain he deserves more. In that Jan. 31, ‘58 letter to Cinnater who in 1937 would have the distinction of being the only U.S. Team Captain in history to see both his Men’s and Women’s Teams win the World Championship, Stewart gives his view of how the USTTA was formed:

"Bill Rogers of New York, Carl Zeisberg of Philadelphia, and myself had been in correspondence. I was making a business trip to New York and we arranged a meeting at that time and over the dinner table we drew up the rough outline for the U.S. Table Tennis Association. You can quibble and say it was true we didn’t have the majority of the players in the middle west at the moment of organization, but there was actually an Illinois or Chicago Table Tennis Association because it existed just as factually as the Ping-Pong association existed. Zeisberg went back to Philadelphia and I went around with Rogers and talked with a number of New York leading players and explained the situation. They agreed to go along with it and it helped Rogers to organize the New York Table Tennis Association and enabled him to put on the first tournament as table tennis, though I believe it was only in New York City."

This account also needs clarification. The NYTTA Handbook for 1931-32, the season the NYTTA National’s was held at Bamberger’s Department Store in Newark, N.J.,

does not list Willard T. "Bill" Rogers, the "Bounding Basque," as any officer in the NYTTA. So what does Stewart mean when he talks about Bill Rogers (of Summit, N.J.) organizing "the New York Table Tennis Association"? Also, that first table tennis tournament Rogers was instrumental in putting on--was it the first (1932) NYTTA Bamberger National’s in Newark, N.J., or the second (1933) NYTTA Gimbel’s National’s in New York City? Although Stewart, writing 25 years later, can be forgiven his confusion, he forces us to make an educated guess as to what he means.

Rogers was the 1932 New Jersey Champion, but he worked in New York City, at I believe the Otis Elevator Co., so it would have been convenient for him to play and talk with the New York players--and, if he were well thought of, to organize them in the sense of having the NYTTA en masse go along with the idea of a USTTA. The players would listen to him the more because it seems he might have had something to do with organizing the 1931-32 season’s Bamberger National’s? Stewart in his Tactics, published sometime in 1933, lists the contact man and address of the NJTTA in Newark as "Willard Rogers, care Bamberger & Co., Secretary, which of course was not Rogers’ home address in Summit. But since Roger won his New Jersey Championship at Bamberger’s perhaps we can deduce his connection with just that tournament and not necessarily the later National’s? Regardless, we can see how if at these National’s he, being so well known, couldn’t get anyone to come to the door to identify him he might leave in a fit of pique. If then Stewart were speaking of a 1931-32 season meeting with Zeisberg and Rogers, Zeisberg would have gone back to Philadelphia and in the fall of ‘32 with Bradley would have shaped this rough outline of a proposed USTTA into the Articles of Agreement he speaks of. And Rogers, having become more chummy with the New York players, would understandably be elected the 1932-33 NYTTA Recording Secretary.

However, perhaps the Stewart-Zeisberg-Rogers meeting took place during the 1932-33 season when Zeisberg could have come prepared with his proposed Articles of Agreement and when Rogers was already the NYTTA Recording Secretary and so obviously had the in-group opportunity to influence other NYTTA officers. But did he have anything to do with the Gimbel National’s in New York City? Well, he played in it. The Singles draw is incomplete--it shows him playing only a first-round match, which he won, not surprisingly since he was seeded #14, but he didn’t make the round of 16. A shaky piece of deduction in this regard might apply: one New York City columnist, in announcing that the tournament was about to start, spoke of three "stars"--the #1 seed Schussheim, who was the Defending Champion; the #2 seed Heitner, who would win the Championship; and the...#14 seed Rogers, who might well have been the columnist’s contact.

Be that as it may, Laflin and Roberts should have given Stewart, along with O’Connell and Rogers, some organizational credit. (Did these historians depend too much on Zeisberg for information? And did Carl consciously minimize Stewart’s efforts?). Yoshio Fushimi, though he may merely be repeating what Stewart told him, said in his long Aug. 14, 1989 letter to me that "Bill Stewart persuaded the National Table Tennis Association of New York [sic for NYTTA] and the Philadelphia T.T.A. to join the movement."

On returning to Chicago, Stewart says, in a July 17, 1934 letter to George Schein, that he (and O’Connell among others?) "talked day after day, night after night with the Chicago players" urging unanimity. Eventually, In Illinois, he says, "where table tennis had 80% of the voting strength and ping-pong had 20% we set up a slate of TTA officers 50% ping-pong and 50% table tennis." Also, as he wrote Cinnater, through his business travels round the middle west he met the "boys in St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and so on, and I’m sure it helped the game, at least the organization of table tennis."

Bill’s efforts in the Midwest were rewarded:

"On June 23, 1934, officers of the Cleveland, Omaha, Detroit, Missouri, and Indiana Ping-Pong Associations, representing about 1,000 players, met with William R. Stewart, acting secretary of the U.S.T.T.A., in Chicago and voted to merge with the U.S.T.T.A" (TTT, May-June, 1934, 1).

Coleman Clark resigned as Vice-President of the APPA and became the USTTA Executive Secretary; his brother Robert, resigned as President of the Western PPA and stopped publishing the APPA magazine to represent Illinois as one of the 16 USTTA Vice-Presidents; Elmer Cinnater, former Missouri PPA head, became the USTTA Treasurer; and Stewart exchanged his USTTA Acting Secretary title for that of President.

Big Bill, then, was certainly an outstanding field general, as well as commander-in-chief, of the early USTTA. But just as Stewart had reservations about Carl Zeisberg, the man who would succeed him as President at 1934-35 season’s end, so, in a Jan. 20, 1949 letter to USTTA History Chair Peter Roberts, Zeisberg had a critical word or two to say about Big Bill. While acknowledging that Stewart "did a lot for the game," and that he had "imagination and zip and push," Carl thought that he was just "too ‘wild’ to work [with] as a team-mate."

Stewart, like many another energetic USTTA President in the years to come, would be frustrated because, working alone or with others, he just couldn’t accomplish what ambitiously he’d hoped to. Here he is, two decades after his tenure, in that Jan. 31, ‘58 letter to Cinnater, reflecting not on the short-run successes to come in the ‘30’s but the failure of the Sport over the years to become really popular:

"I could never understand while I was active in table tennis why we couldn’t do more with the game than we did. It was only a year or so after I was out

of it that I realized the very thing that made it an ideal game for many people was the very thing that held it back from becoming as important as golf, tennis and other sports. It takes very little equipment and inexpensive equipment to play....Therefore, there were no wealthy manufacturers interested in fostering it and advertising in the magazines or magazines connected with the game...."

And the New York Table Tennis Association--was it too independent, too pioneer-proud to be part of the newly-formed, ever-enlarging USTTA? Nope. It joined too--on Nov. 3, 1933.

When the NYTTA 1932-33 Rankings came out in Oct. of ‘33, Marcus Schussheim had to settle for being U.S. #2. And though, after his long reign as #1, such a comedown might not humble him, it could provide the impetus for change in his young life. Would making money from his ("Telegram or Package, Sir? It makes a difference") increasingly popular Messenger Service become more and more this 20-year-old’s preoccupation--so much so that he’d neglect to keep tournament tough? Perhaps. For what kind of future could there possibly be for him in table tennis? "Nobody knows the early history of the Game like I do," he was to say later. "I suffered through it."

Perhaps from our present-day perspective it’s depressing to note that the NYTTA, at a meeting of its Executive Committee on Jan. 4, 1933, had set down very strict guidelines for its amateur players. Supposedly any one of 13 violations would make a player ineligible to compete in NYTTA tournaments. As the 1932-33 NYTTA Handbook makes clear, the player...

* could not permit "the use of his name or initials on sporting goods" for advertising or sales promotion;

* could not be connected "with a firm manufacturing or selling table tennis goods";

* could not use "his titles or statement of his reputation as a player...in connection with books, newspaper, magazine, or other written articles, motion pictures of himself, lectures, or radio talks, for which he would receive any payment or compensation";

* could not write "for pay or a consideration current newspaper articles covering a tournament or match in which he is entered as a competitor";

* could not teach Table Tennis "for pay or for a consideration";

* could not play a match for a cash prize";

* could not, without USTTA permission, play "in a team or exhibition match where gate receipts are charged";

* could not, except through the USTTA, receive or negotiate "expenses to play in tournaments, or exhibition, or team matches outside of New York State."

Wow! How’d you like to be U.S. Champion under these conditions! Is it any wonder that, decades later, when these restrictions were recalled to him, Mark could only gasp, "A man couldn’t breathe!"

Whether such rules were ever actually enforced, however, is another matter. Certainly Schussheim would have violated them just for practicing with New York’s World Champion-to-be Ruth Aarons. He remembers receiving tickets to Broadway shows and ("Won’t you please stay?) accepting dinners at Ruth’s house. Actually, Mark doesn’t think the players or officials paid much if any attention to these rules. Regardless, he recalls only a relatively few opportunities for making even a small amount of money--remembers, for instance, playing a small exhibition tournament with a handful of his contemporaries at some "3-4 table Coney Island joint for maybe a $15 first prize."

At any event, peak-tumbling past aside, ex-Champ, ex-ranked Schussheim was not yet ready to retire. And just as well--for, though he didn’t know it yet, an excitingly different table tennis world was about to open to him.

SELECTED NOTES.

*Sol Schiff told me that Stewart’s book was largely written by Montagu. Certainly Ivor had to have been a contributor. For example, no American writes, "From the summer of 1933 whence we view the future of the game..." (9). The book was published by Martin Publishing Co., 9 South Clinton St., Chicago. That’s also (beginning with TTT, Nov., 1933, 2) the Topics address given for Acting Secretary/President Stewart. Presumably that’s his place of business. So, if he’s the rep for Martin, it was relatively easy for him to get his book published. Supposedly, "over 6500 copies" of Tactics were sold (TTT, June, 1935, 6). For whatever reason, it wasn’t until Jan. 1, 1938, long after Stewart was no longer President, that the USTTA’s official Illinois address was changed from 9 South Clinton St. to 175 W. Jackson Blvd., First Vice-President Dougall Kittermaster’s office address in Chicago.