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The original snooker table ball was made of ivory.
In the nineteenth century thousands of elephants were slaughtered to provide them. By 1890 nearly 15,000 cwt of ivory a year were passing through the Port of London and around 12,000 elephants a year were being killed for their tusks. On average, only four balls could be made from each tusk, and, as the density of the tusk varied considerably, only one or two of the four could be classed as top quality.
To obtain a good set of snooker table balls, therefore, would need seven to eight tusks. An increasing demand for snooker/pool table balls and the growing scarcity of ivory led to experimentation with vanous substitutes. Peter kinnear, a Scot who had emigrated to the United States in the 1860s and settled in Albany, about 150 miles from New York City, set to work to discover a substitute that would be cheaper and better than ivory. The problem was to find a suitable filler. Finally a friend called Hyatt, a chemist who also invented the ball-bearing, discovered a perfect solution in the chemical, cellulose nitrate, which became known as celluloid.
In my travels when out and about carrying out snooker table recovering and snooker table repairs I still come across ivory balls from time to time. These balls would lose their shape eventually from contious use, espescially the cue ball.
It saddens me to think that the fine game of snooker based its origins aroung the slaughter of so many of these magnificent animals.