Q & A with Doug Schmidt
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to write this book?
Doug Schmidt: Having been in the bowling publication business for more than 15 years, people often said, "You're from Milwaukee, that's a big bowling town." My response was, "It's not as big as it used to be." That got me to thinking — Milwaukee has such a rich and colorful tradition in bowling that someone should tell that story and I figured, Why not me?
WHS Press: Why Milwaukee? Is there something about Milwaukee that made bowling an obsession for so many?
DS: That's a question that triggered my curiosity for writing the book. Germans forged the first great immigration to the area and bowling was an extension of their European culture, although not necessarily the game of tenpins. What started as a German religious rite in the Old World became a recreational and competitive outlet for the immigrants when Milwaukee became their mecca at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1900s.
WHS Press: How did you go about doing your research?
DS: My approach was two-fold: 1) I started using the reference library at USBC Bowling Headquarters in Greendale to create a time line of people and events in Milwaukee who influenced the evolution of the sport and 2) I wanted to interview as many individuals as I could who could reflect on how bowling affected their lives. I thought it would be a two-year project, but it became such a fascinating journey that it took me in several new directions which stretched it out.
WHS Press: What was the best part of putting together this book?
DS: Interviewing people who had so many fond memories of their bowling experiences to share and uncovering little known facts about Milwaukee and the city's impact on the bowling industry.
WHS Press: What was the most surprising thing you learned?
DS: At it's peak of popularity in 1980, approximately 100,000 residents of Milwaukee County belonged to a bowling league. That equaled nearly 10 percent of the county's population — a phenomenal total. That's why Milwaukee was considered America's bowling capital.
WHS Press: What are the most dramatic or important moments in bowling history?
DS: There are at least a half dozen which I consider the most significant:
1) Creating the American Bowling Congress in 1895 to give the game structure
2) The ABC's refusal in 1900 to allow female members which led to formation of the Women's International Bowling Congress.
3) Milwaukee's dispute with the ABC in 1931 which threatened the ABC's viability as a governing body.
4) Opening the ABC to minorities in 1951.
5) The formation of the Professional Bowlers Association by Eddie Elias in 1958.
6) ABC's relaxing of rules pertaining to lane dressing requirements and approving honor scores in the 1990s.
7) Combining the ABC and WIBC into one governing body, the United States Bowling Congress, in 2005.
WHS Press: What does the history of bowling tell us about Wisconsin and/or sports history?
DS: Whether you consider it a sport or just a form of recreation, bowling has continued to be the most widely organized game played in America for over 100 years. It also offers a form of social bonding that transcends racial, gender, age and physical boundaries.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
DS: A better understanding of how Milwaukee's German heritage influenced the city's cultural habits and the passionate role that bowling played in the lives of so many Milwaukeeans.