Alex Table Tennis - MyTableTennis.NET Homepage
  New Posts New Posts RSS Feed - First sponge rubbers
  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Events   Register Register  Login Login

First sponge rubbers

 Post Reply Post Reply
Author
Clarence247 View Drop Down
Silver Member
Silver Member
Avatar

Joined: 02/11/2014
Location: Malta
Status: Offline
Points: 549
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Clarence247 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: First sponge rubbers
    Posted: 01/13/2020 at 5:34pm
Hiroji Satoh was the first player to play competitively with a sponge rubber in 1952.

Does anyone know what this rubber was and by who it was manufactured?

Also, I have heard some very old people saying that before Sriver, rubbers were really inferior, and Sriver at that time, changed table tennis even more than Tenergy05 changed it in the 2000's. 

Does anyone know of some examples of rubbers which predate Sriver / Mark V?

Just curious about some TT history sometimes!
OSP Virtuoso (Off-)
MX-P (Max)
Mantra M (Max)

Backup:
Yasaka Extra Offensive,
Nittaku H3 Prov
729-802 SP
Back to Top
darucla View Drop Down
Super Member
Super Member
Avatar

Joined: 07/30/2017
Location: England
Status: Offline
Points: 105
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote darucla Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/13/2020 at 7:22pm
It's an interesting question.  I suspect that he made them himself with some sponge he found in a market somewhere, or they were made in a mad scientist's lab somewhere in Japan.  There was no topsheet of rubber, so strictly speaking we are not talking about sponged rubbers. The sponge was very thick, just took everything off the ball. Anything was allowed in those days.
As for Sriver, I don't know this for certain either, but I suspect that the old men may be referring to hardbat rubber or stuff like C04, which was pips out (with thin sponge on my old, old Oliver Sid Morgan bat in 1964).  I think the BTY rubbers that first came out with inverted topsheets were D12 or 13, but my old Stiga bat had a sheet of Sriver D12 or L12 (can't remember now), which suggests some kind of continuity.  I know that by 1970, serious players were using Mk V.

I got back into table tennis while playing the game on a Nintendo Wii, which interestingly, gave you one digital opponent who had the Satoh-like sponge on her bat,  She was quite difficult to beat.


Edited by darucla - 01/13/2020 at 7:24pm
Back to Top
jfolsen View Drop Down
Silver Member
Silver Member


Joined: 03/15/2006
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 817
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote jfolsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/13/2020 at 7:35pm
You can see pictures online. It was 10mm thick and was all sponge, no topsheet. Opponents said one of the highly disconcerting things about it was a total lack of sound.

Edit: And what Darucla says, as far as anyone knows it wasn't a regular manufacturer.


Edited by jfolsen - 01/13/2020 at 7:51pm
Back to Top
Clarence247 View Drop Down
Silver Member
Silver Member
Avatar

Joined: 02/11/2014
Location: Malta
Status: Offline
Points: 549
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Clarence247 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/13/2020 at 9:11pm
Would be so interesting to have a wikipedia list or something of rubbers by release date. Or to add a release date to Revspin 
OSP Virtuoso (Off-)
MX-P (Max)
Mantra M (Max)

Backup:
Yasaka Extra Offensive,
Nittaku H3 Prov
729-802 SP
Back to Top
GeneralSpecific View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member
Avatar

Joined: 03/01/2010
Location: New York
Status: Offline
Points: 2652
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote GeneralSpecific Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/14/2020 at 7:47am
You might be surprised but it was actually Waldemar Frisch who used sponge on his racket in 1951, the year before Satoh did.

Check out this article I edited:
Blade - Tibhar Force Pro Special Edition FL
Forehand - TBD
Backhand - Xiom Vega Europe DF 1.8mm
Back to Top
gnopgnipster View Drop Down
Silver Member
Silver Member
Avatar

Joined: 07/22/2007
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 876
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gnopgnipster Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/14/2020 at 7:02pm
Sponge was known even before 1951 but nobody used it to win major events. Satoh got lucky in that his hardbat opponents freaked out and lost. Within a short time the hardbat players learned how to defeat Satoh and the sponge paddles, but by that time it was too late. Pandora's box had been opened. 
Hardbat: Valor Champion/FH/BH-Valor Premier-OX

Regular:Valor Big Stick FH-Apollo II & BH-Globe 979 OX

Back to Top
GeneralSpecific View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member
Avatar

Joined: 03/01/2010
Location: New York
Status: Offline
Points: 2652
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GeneralSpecific Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/14/2020 at 8:09pm
Originally posted by gnopgnipster gnopgnipster wrote:

Sponge was known even before 1951 but nobody used it to win major events. Satoh got lucky in that his hardbat opponents freaked out and lost. Within a short time the hardbat players learned how to defeat Satoh and the sponge paddles, but by that time it was too late. Pandora's box had been opened. 


Yes, I should have clarified that I meant the first in proper competition.
Blade - Tibhar Force Pro Special Edition FL
Forehand - TBD
Backhand - Xiom Vega Europe DF 1.8mm
Back to Top
wturber View Drop Down
Premier Member
Premier Member
Avatar

Joined: 10/28/2008
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 3810
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote wturber Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/14/2020 at 11:37pm
Originally posted by GeneralSpecific GeneralSpecific wrote:

Originally posted by gnopgnipster gnopgnipster wrote:

Sponge was known even before 1951 but nobody used it to win major events. Satoh got lucky in that his hardbat opponents freaked out and lost. Within a short time the hardbat players learned how to defeat Satoh and the sponge paddles, but by that time it was too late. Pandora's box had been opened. 


Yes, I should have clarified that I meant the first in proper competition.

No.  It was used in proper competition before.  It just hadn't been successful. The 1952 World Championship was just a strange confluence of events.  Satoh wasn't even considered one of the strongest players on the Japanese team.

But once word spread about this "magic" sponge toppling the greats, all hell broke loose.  Experimentation with all kinds of strange and irregular surfaces became quite common and many people in the sport began clamoring for some kind of standards.  I guess it is actually kinda amazing that an (almost) "anything" goes approach to covering lasted as long as it did.  

Long story short, the various factions finally agreed with a set of standards that forms the foundation that we use today.  Pips out with or without sponge, pips in with sponge became the only legal coverings.  The two "sandwich" rubber options could be no thicker than 4mm.  This was a compromise in that the U.K. and U.S.A. factions were strongly against any sponge while most of the Asian factions wanted to allow sponge that was many millimeters thick.  Sponge like Satoh played with did not make the list of three.  

BTW, prior to 1959, rubbers were frequently not branded in same sense they are now.  For instance the quite famous "Leyland" rubber was actually many different variations of rubber made by Leyland and used for a wide variety of purposes.  There was no label or ID put on Leyland rubber and I'm pretty sure that was typical of most other rubbers.  I think the 1959 rule change probably ushered in or at least accelerated a change in rubber branding and marketing as well.

For those interested, I'm attaching a copies of two PDFs created by Chuck Hoey, former ITTF Museum Curator and probably one of the most important people involved in preserving table tennis history.




Edited by wturber - 01/14/2020 at 11:38pm
Jay Turberville
www.jayandwanda.com
Hardbat: Gambler Zebra Classic w/ Dr. Evil
Back to Top
mykonos96 View Drop Down
Gold Member
Gold Member
Avatar

Joined: 07/19/2018
Location: Southam
Status: Offline
Points: 1121
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mykonos96 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/15/2020 at 7:48pm
Originally posted by Clarence247 Clarence247 wrote:

Hiroji Satoh was the first player to play competitively with a sponge rubber in 1952.

Does anyone know what this rubber was and by who it was manufactured?

Also, I have heard some very old people saying that before Sriver, rubbers were really inferior, and Sriver at that time, changed table tennis even more than Tenergy05 changed it in the 2000's. 

Does anyone know of some examples of rubbers which predate Sriver / Mark V?

Just curious about some TT history sometimes!

Globe 999 and ritc 729
Back to Top
GeneralSpecific View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member
Avatar

Joined: 03/01/2010
Location: New York
Status: Offline
Points: 2652
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GeneralSpecific Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/16/2020 at 1:55am
Originally posted by wturber wturber wrote:

Originally posted by GeneralSpecific GeneralSpecific wrote:

Originally posted by gnopgnipster gnopgnipster wrote:

Sponge was known even before 1951 but nobody used it to win major events. Satoh got lucky in that his hardbat opponents freaked out and lost. Within a short time the hardbat players learned how to defeat Satoh and the sponge paddles, but by that time it was too late. Pandora's box had been opened. 


Yes, I should have clarified that I meant the first in proper competition.

No.  It was used in proper competition before.  It just hadn't been successful. The 1952 World Championship was just a strange confluence of events.  Satoh wasn't even considered one of the strongest players on the Japanese team.

But once word spread about this "magic" sponge toppling the greats, all hell broke loose.  Experimentation with all kinds of strange and irregular surfaces became quite common and many people in the sport began clamoring for some kind of standards.  I guess it is actually kinda amazing that an (almost) "anything" goes approach to covering lasted as long as it did.  

Long story short, the various factions finally agreed with a set of standards that forms the foundation that we use today.  Pips out with or without sponge, pips in with sponge became the only legal coverings.  The two "sandwich" rubber options could be no thicker than 4mm.  This was a compromise in that the U.K. and U.S.A. factions were strongly against any sponge while most of the Asian factions wanted to allow sponge that was many millimeters thick.  Sponge like Satoh played with did not make the list of three.  

BTW, prior to 1959, rubbers were frequently not branded in same sense they are now.  For instance the quite famous "Leyland" rubber was actually many different variations of rubber made by Leyland and used for a wide variety of purposes.  There was no label or ID put on Leyland rubber and I'm pretty sure that was typical of most other rubbers.  I think the 1959 rule change probably ushered in or at least accelerated a change in rubber branding and marketing as well.

For those interested, I'm attaching a copies of two PDFs created by Chuck Hoey, former ITTF Museum Curator and probably one of the most important people involved in preserving table tennis history.




Very interesting information. I had always speculated that other surfaces were tested, I just never really knew for sure.
Blade - Tibhar Force Pro Special Edition FL
Forehand - TBD
Backhand - Xiom Vega Europe DF 1.8mm
Back to Top
GeneralSpecific View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member
Avatar

Joined: 03/01/2010
Location: New York
Status: Offline
Points: 2652
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GeneralSpecific Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/16/2020 at 1:57am
Originally posted by mykonos96 mykonos96 wrote:

Originally posted by Clarence247 Clarence247 wrote:


Does anyone know of some examples of rubbers which predate Sriver / Mark V?

Just curious about some TT history sometimes!

Globe 999 and ritc 729


Yasaka Original was released in 1953
Blade - Tibhar Force Pro Special Edition FL
Forehand - TBD
Backhand - Xiom Vega Europe DF 1.8mm
Back to Top
mykonos96 View Drop Down
Gold Member
Gold Member
Avatar

Joined: 07/19/2018
Location: Southam
Status: Offline
Points: 1121
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mykonos96 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/16/2020 at 8:44pm
Originally posted by GeneralSpecific GeneralSpecific wrote:

Originally posted by mykonos96 mykonos96 wrote:

Originally posted by Clarence247 Clarence247 wrote:


Does anyone know of some examples of rubbers which predate Sriver / Mark V?

Just curious about some TT history sometimes!

Globe 999 and ritc 729


Yasaka Original was released in 1953

Anybody knows how this rubber plays?
Back to Top
igorponger View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member
Avatar

Joined: 07/29/2006
Location: Third planet to the Sun
Status: Offline
Points: 2775
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote igorponger Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/17/2020 at 2:07pm
   ARMSTRONG MANUFACTURER OF NIPPON TO HONOUR.
Armstrong's honoured owner, Mr. Rikizo Harada, was the only sponsor for Satoh oversea jorney for the year 1952.
   Yet, Hiroji Satoh were not the first player using cellular rubber material. Sir. Montagu Ivor did adopted such a novelty material for his playing paddle back in 1926;

Back to Top
benfb View Drop Down
Platinum Member
Platinum Member


Joined: 10/10/2008
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 2577
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote benfb Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/18/2020 at 10:25pm
Originally posted by mykonos96 mykonos96 wrote:

Originally posted by GeneralSpecific GeneralSpecific wrote:

Originally posted by mykonos96 mykonos96 wrote:

Originally posted by Clarence247 Clarence247 wrote:


Does anyone know of some examples of rubbers which predate Sriver / Mark V?

Just curious about some TT history sometimes!

Globe 999 and ritc 729


Yasaka Original was released in 1953

Anybody knows how this rubber plays?

Still unopened, stored in my garage.




Back to Top
wturber View Drop Down
Premier Member
Premier Member
Avatar

Joined: 10/28/2008
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 3810
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote wturber Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01/20/2020 at 12:29am
The Armstrong Rubber information was news to me and then I ran across this issue of "The Table Tennis Collector." This article adds to the previous on I posted filling in many of the gaps and adding more background.  In particular, it includes information on how the original foam surfaces play.  In short, the sponge played pretty dead and not at all like modern sandwich inverted.

This will be easier to read if you just go to this link.  There are also some interesting photos showing how ridiculous some of the surfaces became.

The following has been copy pasted from the PDF.

"The 1950s Arms Race
by Steve Grant (USA)

“What a mess!”---Victor Barna, 1956

Not long ago I acquired a 1952 program
signed by Hiroji Satoh of Japan
(pictured), and realized I knew little
about the 1950s sponge- transition era.
This fascinating chapter
in our sport’s history was nicely
surveyed by David Hughes in the May
2014 edition of this publication. But I
wanted to drill deeper, learn about all
the trouble and turmoil and boiling
emotions, and understand exactly how
everything worked itself out.
This was an arms race---out of control.
Weapons changed often. Opinions
changed often, too. And then in 1959, a
majority of member ITTF nations voted
to forever ban sponge in any shape or
form. Yes, all sponge, of any kind.
The final result shaped the sport’s future.
Origins
Sponge certainly threw dynamite into the works. Credit or blame Mr. Satoh for that if you wish, but
other players of other nations had been trying sponge for years. The time bomb had been ticking.
Satoh’s explosive win of the world singles championship in February 1952 fired the starting pistol for a
race to create the most powerful or devious new racket, triggering seven acrimonious years of debate,
rules proposals, votes, surveys, experiments, and weapon bans.
Satoh was not the first Japanese player to use sponge. In an April 1952 interview in Table Tennis,
magazine of the English TTA, Satoh explained that, six months before the ’52 Worlds, he was beaten by a sponge player named Asano. The 26-year-old Satoh, a player since age 14 (his early role model being
national champion Takashi Kon), was so impressed that he quickly sought out the same racket supplier.

Unstated in the article is that this meant a 700-kilometer trip to Tokyo to meet inventor Rikizo Harada,
who happened to be Asano’s employer. Filling in the details for me recently was Harada’s son Masaaki
Harada, president of Armstrong Company, the Tokyo table tennis equipment firm started by his father in the 1940s. Oddly enough, it all came about because of a shortage of billiard balls. Now age 74, Mr. Harada explained in a September 2014 interview in his office with my Tokyo contacts. Though Rikizo Harada (1900-1985) and Ping Pong shared a birth year, their paths would not cross until much later in the century. Rikizo’s parents, of poor financial circumstances in the Tokyo suburb of Kawaguchi, placed him in a temple at age 10 to be trained as a monk. At 17, though, Rikizo left to seek an entertainment career. At 33, he abandoned that path and opened a pool hall. When the war cut off supplies in 1941, he converted the pool tables to table tennis. In 1944, he began making table tennis rackets and two years later formed Armstrong Company, borrowing the name by
permission from the large American tire company that
supplied its rubber. In January 1950 his rackets received
official approval of the Japanese TTA.
That year, 1950, Mr. Harada (pictured) opened Tokyo Takkyu
Kaikan (table tennis center) in Nishi-nippori, Tokyo, where all
the top players soon practiced. Armstrong hired the
aforementioned Hideo Asano, a recent graduate of Senshu
University, who helped experiment with the new sponge
racket that Harada patented in Japan in May 1951. Among
advantages listed in his 1952 London patent were to avoid
both “disagreeable noise” and “damage of the ball.” Satoh
said in that 1952 interview, “The very thin wood [1/8 inch]
and the very thick sponge take the sting out of the most vicious shot and impart a terrific side-spin to
the shot. Perhaps the complete silence disconcerts the opponent also.” He added that the bat is far from invincible and that his teammate Norikazu Fujii can easily beat him.
Satoh had found sponsors to finance his trip to Bombay, the first time ever that the Japanese entered the world championships. Masaaki Harada also states that the company gave Satoh a farewell gift equivalent to present-day $1,500, and a later gift for winning the championship. The company’s sponge racket business soared as players strove to emulate the new champ. Satoh did some promotional work, visiting Japanese training camps when he could get away from the family watch shop in Aomori. From thecountryside and not particularly articulate, Satoh might have become a full-time company employee if his sales skills had been better, says Mr. Harada. Still, Satoh seemingly retained some connection to the company even after his retirement from tournament table tennis in January 1954. Later that year, a U.S.T.T.A. official visited “the table tennis center of Mr. Harada, originator and manufacturer of the sponge rubber bat,” where he played Satoh (Table Tennis Topics, April 1955). Asano was only a reserve on the 1952 team and did not make the Bombay trip, though he later won the Japanese doubles title. He worked for Armstrong for several more years.

As mentioned, Rikizo Harada’s name was on those patents. But then who was Yoshinori Harada? Two
days after Satoh’s big win, The Straits Times of Singapore said that “inventor Yoshinori Harada” had
thereby become “the happiest man in Tokyo.” Tim Boggan, in his 2003 Volume II of History of U.S. Table
Tennis, also cited Yoshinori as the inventor. Masaaki Harada explains: His father Rikizo took the preferred
additional name of Yoshinori because of his belief in onomancy, the power of a name to determine
destiny. A good choice, it seems. Armstrong soon created the bats of two more world champions. (It
also provided the tables for the ‘56 Worlds in Tokyo.)
Given that sponge preceded the patents, is it really possible to say who “invented” it? Editor Chuck Hoey
tackled the question in Issue 46 of this publication, where he discussed a 1954 letter from the Jaques
sporting goods firm. The letter recalled sponge rackets ordered by ITTF president Ivor Montagu, probably
in the 1930s, and asked Montagu whether he originated the sponge idea. Chuck has been unable to find
Montagu’s reply. If his reply cannot be found, one can find his answer in Table Tennis, October 1961.
There Montagu writes about P.E. Warden’s sandwich bat of the early 1920s, pimpled
rubber over a thick layer of plush: “It was not sponge---that did not come until Messrs. Jaques sent me a
sample to try in the ‘thirties…” This brief sideways insertion into an obituary put the origination claim into
public print. But were Jaques and Montagu both mistaken about the timing? The 1926 World
Championships program said that Montagu “uses now a racket surfaced with springy aerated rubber
that is taut like gut springing.” London’s Daily Mirror, April 17, 1954, stated, “A sponge bat was used in
the first world championships in 1926 by Ivor Montagu…”
Early Reactions
Ban demands began immediately after Satoh’s win. Losing finalist Jozsef Koczian of Hungary (pictured
foreground, with teammate Ferenc Sido), said, “The ball’s way was simply incalculable. I tried to play
aggressively first, then changed to a defensive game, in vain.”
The Hungarians, winners of the team event, submitted a ban
resolution before they even left those Bombay championships,
according to the Singapore Free Press on March 20, which quoted
team head Istvan Krajcsovics: “It is very likely that [sponge] will
be prohibited…as all nations were happy to join our request,
except the Japanese, of course.” But the minutes of the ITTF
meeting of February 10, 1952, tell a very different story, only
showing a “suggestion from Japan to limit to some extent the
size, shape and weight of the racket.” So, “it was decided to send
a questionnaire to all associations on the proposal from Japan
and obtain full information as to the type of rackets in use.”
Montagu tried to calm the waters. “For heaven’s sake don’t let’s
be like those politicians of whom it is said that, when they lose,
they change the rules.” Thus did he conclude his 2,000-word essay
dated March 15, 1952 in the May Table Tennis. He called

sponge a fair weapon that was beatable, contrary to the “agitation“ that “derives from panic or
sensationalism on the part of the ill-informed…To hear some people talk, one would suppose they did not
remember that last year in Vienna [at the ‘51 Worlds] Fritsch of Austria, using sponge rubber, beat a
succession of the world’s top players…One would also suppose that English fans had forgotten Charlie
Dawes of Bristol, who, not long ago, beat three internationals in succession at the English
Championships, using only soft rubber.” Montagu wrote
that he himself had used sponge for “over 20 years.” Also,
“It is well to remember that so late as 1926 devotees of
wood were demanding the banning of [pimpled rubber]
on the ground that it ‘spoiled the game.’”
Table tennis businesses embraced the sponge
opportunity. In the same May 1952 magazine, Alec Brook
Ltd. headlined its ad with “1000 IN TWO WEEKS!”---“We
sold over this number of SPONGE and CREPE bats in the
first two weeks after announcing they were available.” The
ad offered sponge bats at 10/- and crepe at 10/6d, without
specifying how the surfaces differed. In October, after the
summer off-season, J. Rose & Son were offering
“thin sponge rubber” bats at 7/6d and “crepe rubber” bats
at 8/-.
Yet in the next issue, there was nary a mention of sponge
or crepe. Even Harry Venner’s article on choosing a bat
discussed coverings only in regard to pimple size and
depth. Perhaps the fad was over?
Meanwhile, the Hungarians were no longer singing the
blues. Instead (Jan. ‘53), we hear jaunty rock ‘n’ roll from
Elmer Gyetvai: “There is no need to ban sponge bats
because players using rubber-covered bats can beat them
quite decisively, as Bergmann and Leach proved by their [1952 exhibition] victories in Japan. When the
Japs see the superiority of the rubber, sponge will die a natural death as a bat covering and be found
only in the bathroom.” Teammate Ferenc Sido harmonized that there was “no need to prohibit
[sponge]; it will just vanish.” Hitting the high note weeks later, Sido won the world singles championship.
The Japanese skipped that show because of its Communist venue, Romania, but would soon enough
again grab center stage.
Minutes of the 1953 ITTF meeting show no mention of rackets. The 1954 meeting defeated Wales’
proposal to ban sponge and England’s proposal to study the question. Not long before, Montagu had
polled top English players and published the results in Table Tennis. They generally agreed with his handsoff
stance. For example, former world champ Johnny Leach believed sponge would “die a natural
death” because “it is almost impossible to obtain sound ball control.”

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” wrote Table Tennis editor Leslie Woollard in 1954. “…Meet it, study it,
beat it. Surely playing technique has not so generally deteriorated that we can no longer face those hoary
Ancients---Sponge and Penholders?!!” (Interestingly, the greater East/West difference in 1952 had been
the racket grip. The astounding success of the Japanese left Westerners pondering advantages of
the penholder. Meanwhile, some Japanese had been so impressed with Westerners’ play that they
formed a Shake Hand Grip Society.)
Still, some players instead figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Going Over to the Dark Side
Most top USA players first saw sponge at the national team championships in late 1952, where “Sponge
Man from Ohio,” Dr. Richard Puls, pulled off upsets. Shortly after, the Southern California TTA outlawed
sponge in tournament play. (For details, see the “Banned in
Hollywood” subsection of Boggan’s Volume III, Chapter 3,
History of U.S. Table Tennis.) The ban lasted only one season,
although in 1955 some players split off into their own pimpledrubber
competitions because they felt the sport had become
“a duel of trickery and weapons rather than an enjoyable
contest between skilled protagonists.” By early 1956, nearly all
the top California players were using sponge, noted former
world champ Richard Bergmann after playing in the U.S. Open.
The leading American, Californian Erwin Klein, 17, said, “There
are two kinds of players in the world today: sponge-users and
those who lose.” Weeks later, he won the ’56 world mixed
doubles crown with Leah Neuberger. That’s Klein pictured at
left, three years earlier, picketing.
At the 1953 English Open, former Yugoslavian champion Max
Marinko switched in the middle of the first game from sponge
to “his outsize wooden bat,” but still lost 21-4 to a 47-year-old
sponger (that’s what they called them), who also took the next
two games. In Cuba, all the top players were using sponge by
1954. At the late-1954 Asian championships, two of the runnerup
Singapore men’s team were spongers, though none of the
winning Hong Kong team.
In Brazil, where nearly all the top players were penholders by early 1953, and which had its own Japanese
table tennis club, sponge quickly became rather popular. When the penholder sponge brothers Severo
met in the final of the Rio Open, their long, dull waiting game (“It is difficult to attack with that surface”---
Table Tennis, Dec. ‘53) demonstrated a potential drawback of sponge. After a similar lengthy finals match
at the 1956 Australian championships, one observer said, “One can see why the movement overseas to
ban sponge is gaining support.” For many players, sponge worked best as a

counter-hitting tool, and that’s why two spongers might engage in pushing marathons waiting for the
opponent to hit first.
Yet in the right hands, sponge could be a very efficient attacking weapon.
Yugoslavia’s star Zarko Dolinar (right), another penholder, used a “massive”
sponge bat in his hard-hitting win over Bergmann in the French Open
quarterfinal in January 1953, won the English Open in 1955 and had
great success at the world championships in 1954 and ‘55. It was another
sponge player who won the 1954 world singles championship, Japanese
attacker Ichiro Ogimura, but only after he switched while there from thick
sponge to thin 2mm for improved control. The losing finalist, fellow sponger
Tage Flisberg of Sweden, said later, “I have always been called an
attacking player…that is a reason I like sponge. You MUST be a good
attacker to win with it…” But one writer said it was the worst men’s singles
final he had ever seen, too many kill shots, “devoid of rallies.” Too much
offense or too much defense---sponge match-ups could go to either
extreme!
Flisberg, 36, had revitalized his game with sponge. Here’s a rough partial translation of this cartoon,
from a few months before he made the ’54 finals: “The
’52 world title was won by a second-level Japanese
named Satoh --- using sponge. One naturally wondered
how a top player would fare with sponge. Indeed---it
turns out that Tage Flisberg is beating the likes of
Bergmann and Leach match after match.”
Sponge variations seemed limitless. At that 1954 Worlds,
“Some players had inset panels of finer sponge in the
middle of coarse sponge,” reported an Australian
newspaper. “It gave a different kind of spin to the ball,
depending on what part of the bat came into contact.”
One Japanese sponge was borrowed from another arms
race: It was a closed-cell type mainly used to seal tanks of
fighter planes, according to the Butterfly Company
website. Perhaps that inspired Harada’s Armstrong Co. to
name its sponge bat “New Arms”? (See its 1953 ad
pictured in the previous issue of this publication, page 17.)
Hungary yet again changed its tune. They “decided to
experiment with sponge bats,” said an article in the
Times of India, “and a Hungarian sports goods factory
has, after long months of research, produced a sponge

rubber bat based on specifications brought back by the Hungarian team from Wembley [the ’54
Worlds]."
Down in New Zealand, the first sponger seems to have been Stan Stewart, who made his own heavy
sponge racket in the 1930s. In 1954, NZ had its first sponger singles champ, Bob Jackson, who had
brought back several sponge bats from the ’54 Worlds. Jackson’s “tools of the trade included a bat with
soft foam, another ‘waffle-patterned’ to counter chop, and a harder, flat surfaced sponge bat to deal
with the faster ball. He…was soon manufacturing sponge bats himself and advising and supplying other
people.” More from the NZTTA archives: In 1955 Jackson was “simply unbeatable…He played mostly
with thick grey Dolinar sponge on the forehand, which he
had modified himself for extra fire power, and thinner,
harder black sponge on the backhand (industrial
material…known as the ‘black stuff’).” Also: “By 1955
supplies of sponge bats of varying material, thicknesses and
speed were available in NZ shops…Everyone seemed to want
one, especially the struggling club player…Higher level
players were in less of a hurry. Some were excited by it;
others hesitant…The bat was, in general, harder to control…”
In 1956 Jackson won the Australian championship---“The
thick sponge on his forehand was cut from a bath mat, with
holes punched for extra spin.” Back home in the NZ national
championships, all the 1956 title winners were spongers. By
1957, most of the country’s top players used sponge, though
more on the men’s side than on the women’s.
Most of the million regular Japanese players were abandoning pimpled rubber. More accurately, many
were either turning the pimpled rubber upside down (inverted) or combining it with sponge (sandwich).
Up until just a few years earlier, Japanese players had primarily used plain wood or cork, so they were
not much wedded to “orthodox” pimpled rubber and were somewhat accustomed to change. Surveys
there (apparently conducted by Butterfly) in late 1954 and again a year later showed what the club
player in Japan was using:
1954 1955
Pimpled Rubber 45% 40%
Sponge 26% 20%
Inverted rubber 21% 15%
Sandwich, other 8% 25%
So 1955 was the year that sandwich was the big new thing in Japan. Not by chance, it was also the year
Toshiaki Tanaka won the world singles crown with a “fancy sponge-rubber-sandwich arrangement” to

make “the hardest drive we have seen,” wrote English coach Jack Carrington in Table Tennis. (Both
Ogimura and Tanaka got their championship bats from Armstrong, says Masaaki Harada.) Tanaka, 20,
beat sponge players in the semi-final and final. He “appeared to have an intense dislike of the ball,
prodding it distastefully a few times before getting really annoyed at its continual appearance” and
dispatching it. In the prior month’s Table Tennis, a writer said Tanaka won his national championship
using inverted, called “back-sided” or “soft” rubber, “said to be most effective in the service.” Three
months before that, Johnny Leach wrote that Tanaka’s “new bat consists of a thin layer of sponge over
the top of ordinary pimpled-rubber. [Inverted-inverted? Perhaps something got turned around in the
translation.]. So it looks as though there will soon be a new talking point to add fire to the ‘ban sponge’
critics. However, once again, the new material, which I have already seen, is too heavy to be of use to
the orthodox player.”
A USA player/coach liked the pimpled rubber over sponge sandwich: “This type curbs most of the ‘crazy’
spin of sponge, and provides considerably more control. It also reacts more like a ‘regular’ bat, especially
in the middle or pushing game…” Sido instead saw the glass half-empty, saying sandwich “is neither fish
nor fowl…The speed of the sponge is lessened. And the sponge portion [reduces] the accuracy and
control of the rubber.” But Leach wrote a December 1956 Table Tennis article that took a very positive,
prophetic view of sandwich. “Through this new bat we could see, in time, the return of good, all-round
table tennis…What’s more, the sponge bat, as we know it, could become extinct within two seasons.”
(Less prophetic was his closing sentence: “The hard rubber-surfaced bat will never die out, because it is
indispensable while learning ball control and basic strokes.”) This ad chanced to appear in the same issue:
_____________________________________
At the 1956 English Open, only one sponger made the men’s semis (none made the women’s). That was
Hungarian Elmer Gyetvai, who used inverted rubber over sponge. Yes, the same Mr. Gyetvai who had
said sponge would be found only in the bathroom. “He is to my mind the hardest hitter in the world,”

wrote Leach. At the three main 1956 Australian State Championships, one finalist used Japanese soft
rubber, another used a Tanaka-type sandwich, and a third used black sponge. Hungarian Zoltan Berczik
won the 1956 Yugoslavian title with a “funny” sponge bat, at one point in the final leading the Czech star
Ivan Andreadis 12-0. Excepting Andreadis, age 32, the entire Czech men’s team was using sponge by
1956, and even he finally switched two years later.
“An Evil Not to be Endured”
Many holdouts remained, primarily in the West. At the 1955 ITTF meeting, a sponge ban proposal (this
time by Belgium) was again defeated, but a proposal to study the question passed. The 1956 meeting
saw a similar outcome.
In a December 1955 article in Table Tennis, Aubrey Simons claimed that the majority of players who had
tried sponge had switched back to pimpled rubber, sponge being too difficult to control. Only 8% of
English grass-roots players were using sponge in the 1955-56 season, according to a county-level
statistician. An English observer in May 1956 wrote, “…The more promising of our younger players are
ignoring the trend to change over to the sponge bat…”
In New Zealand: “There were players whose game fell apart completely with sponge…About one-third of
Wellington’s A Grade began the season with sponge but more than half had switched back to pimples by
season’s end…And there was the question of advising new players. Should they start with sponge and
risk having to learn all over again with pimples if sponge goes out of favour or is banned?” From early
1956 Romania: “Authorities are staging an all-out campaign to encourage the use of [pimpled] rubber.
Big help for them is [that] star Toma Reiter is to discard the sponge he adopted…” Meanwhile, in their
book ‘The Twins’ on Table Tennis, world doubles champions Diane and Rosalind Rowe of England called
for a ban on sponge. A mid-1956 survey showed that half of USA players wanted to ban sponge, and half
did not.
“The whole situation is
ridiculous,” wrote former world
champ Barna inWorld Sports
magazine shortly before the 1956
Worlds, arguing that a new rule
was needed. “What a state of
affairs! What a mess!” Match outcomes depended upon the properties of one surface versus another;
the beloved sport had devolved into a rock-paper-scissors game. “Rubber apparently does not like
sponge,” wrote Barna, “sponge does not like ‘back-sided’ [inverted] rubber; and ‘back-sided’ rubber just
hates ordinary rubber.” Even worse, as Barna explained in another article, “every type of sponge behaves
differently. For example, the thin sponge used by the Japanese is nothing like the thick type
manufactured in Sweden.”

Barna believed that, even if sponge was not banned, pimpled rubber “will prove the most reliable in the
long run. It can handle every type of shot and can produce the most important stroke---the chop,”
whereas “sponge cannot take spin.”
Englishman Sam Kirkwood in April 1956 wrote that a ban was unnecessary: “Time, and the right players,
will prove beyond all question that rubber is far superior to sponge… Sponge destroys that supremely
vital asset of a champion player---perfect ball control. With a sponge bat, one can score an impossible
kill and just as easily fluff the easiest of sitters…Even the finest sponge exponent is to some degree at
the mercy of his racket…It must be obvious to everyone that the future rests on Players, not regulations,
so let’s cut out the interminable nattering and apply our energies to playing genuine table tennis. Or is
that asking too much of the chiseling brigade whose stone walls have been blown to bits by hitters and
find a useful ‘bogey’ to blame in sponge?...The Orientals would have achieved their world success had
they used vellum, pig-iron or wood….”---Table Tennis, April 1956.
Yet Sam changed his tune just months later: “…Sponge must be outlawed---NOW---before it is too late.
We have had four years to make up our minds about sponge (and crepe, ‘sandwiches,’ leather, etc.,
etc.), and it has been proved that the game will be all the better without it.” He argued that sponge had
robbed the game of excitement, tactics, footwork, beauty and thus popularity.
“I personally think sponge is an evil not to be endured,” wrote English coach Carrington in late 1956. He
noted the difficulty of teaching the game given “the flood of experimental surfaces appearing almost
daily.” At a tournament he entered, Carrington carried a bag of different rackets to the table and then
chose his weapon based upon what his opponent was using. Gloucestershire County decided to lead
England in standardization in late 1956, allowing only pimpled rubber players on the county team,
because otherwise “instead of producing a champion player….the tendency is to produce a champion
racket.”
Ogimura and Tanaka (pictured together) led
continued Japanese domination in ’56 and ’57. Both
Barna and Bergmann attributed that success not to
sponge or to the penholder grip (which they
actually considered a handicap), but to physical
fitness and strategy. The Asian TT Federation urged
all its members to “vehemently
oppose” all attempt to ban sponge, saying “as long
as a table tennis racket is not standardized, any
move to ban only sponge is based more on
prejudice than meeting facts.” They would not
oppose standardization on one surface, say
pimpled rubber, “but as long as faces like wood,
sandpaper, vellum, magic rubber, soft rubber and
sponge are in common use, to particularise sponge as the only menace to table tennis was rather
curious and amazing.”

Disarmament
Novices and even regular club-level players were finding the great variety of bat coverings frustrating and
complex, hurting the sport’s popularity. Moreover, the disagreements, even hostility, were damaging the
international unity of the table tennis world. By 1957 most member nations agreed that some kind of
rule change was necessary---Montagu had shifted to this view too---but should the
“standardisation” be by thickness only or by both thickness and material? Still more study and trials
ensued. Among top players, sponge and sandwich were becoming as widespread in Europe as in Asia. Yet
England, where the stars all used sponge, chose to ban it in a 1957-58 trial, renewed in 1958-59, as did
several other European countries, thus handicapping themselves in international competitions. USA
and Canada each banned sponge for the 1958-59 season.
Hungary was still against sponge/special rubbers even though
a majority of its top players had switched to them. In
late 1958 we hear from Sido again: “It can safely be said that
sponge ruined me, wiped me off, and if it is not banned [at
the next ITTF meeting] I shall finish with the game.” He said
that even though he had beaten each of the Japanese “kings
of sponge,” the victories “ruined my nerves and that’s [too
high a price].” The cartoon at left is from four years earlier.
In the summer of 1958, Montagu sent a 24-page letter to all
member nations detailing his thoughts on why
standardisation was finally necessary, his own preference
being pimpled rubber, no sponge. He asked for responses preparatory to a vote. Responses showed 27
in favor of standardisation, 5 against, but many silent. Two-thirds of the favorable responses wanted the
standardisation to be pimpled rubber.
If you look at the agenda for the 1926 founding general meeting of the ITTF that is viewable on the ITTF
Museum website, you’ll see the proposed rule that racquets “may be any material, size, shape or
weight.” On the prior page, proposed Article 16 of the constitution states that any rule change “can only
be made unanimously.” But “unanimously” is crossed out; handwritten over it is “3/4.”
At the 1959 general meeting, an early tally showed 32 countries in favor of standardisation and 13
against. A vote on whether the standardisation should be only pimpled rubber showed 25 countries for
and 18 against, short of the 75% agreement needed. For example, China, Czechoslovakia and New
Zealand favored standardisation, but not if sponge were excluded. Compromise pointed to sandwich.
Some members wanted the reverse-rubber (inverted) outer sandwich covering to be excluded, but that
had insufficient support. That left the question of thickness. Japan was against standardisation but, if
inevitable, wanted unrestricted thickness or a maximum set at 6mm or even 8mm “to allow room for
experiment,” even though most of its own players used sub-4mm sandwich.

The compromise that passed (36 countries for, 10 against) said the wood blade could be covered by
“either (a) plain ordinary, pimpled rubber, with pimples outward, of a total thickness of not more than
2mm; or (b) ‘sandwich’, consisting of a layer of cellular rubber surfaced by plain ordinary pimpled rubber
---turned inwards or outwards---in which case the total thickness of covering of either side shall not be
more than 4mm.” Pimple density must be between 10 and 50 per square cm.
“Japan in particular was aghast,” according to the NZTTA website, “claiming the decision set
the sport back ten years in their country.” That may be an overstatement, since some of its
stars were already using thinner sandwich. New Zealand voted yes to the compromise, but
Barbara Packwood (left) wrote in that country’s Table Tennis Review, “Sponge has been
buried---dishonourably---beneath layers of pimpled rubber. What an inglorious death for a
medium that has brought so much interest, excitement and speculation to tournaments in
recent years!...For the sake of what is virtually a trade compromise between the English and
Japanese manufacturers, table tennis has been put on the chopping block. One should be
thankful that Japanese vested interests are as powerful as Halex and Dunlop, or we would be
reduced to just the English products…How enfeebled and spineless can we get…?... Felt
sponge (even under rubber), as used by many top-flight Japanese, is out, as is uncovered sponge (used
widely in Asia), and Ogimura’s bat is too thick. With the ban has also gone our last chance of any leap up
the international ladder. Black sponge was peculiar to N.Z….We were on our way up at last…”
In the USA, a 1961 petition signed by over 100 Ohioans asked the USTTA to ban sponge in any form. So
there remained unhappy players on both sides of the issue. But that’s the nature of compromise. The
disarmament treaty worked, though weapons such as anti-spin,
long pips and speed glue presented new challenges in the decades
ahead.
Hiroji Satoh (pictured in his moment of glory) died in 2000 at age 75.
The sponge controversy outlived him, at least for a few players,
including one of his 1952 victims: “The whole emphasis on the game
today, with sponge rackets, is to interfere with the senses of
the player…The game is full of deceit, deception and fraud, and
that’s where the game stinks, and until they eliminate that, you
don’t have a sport.”---Marty Reisman, 2006, Ping Pong Hustler short
film.
Thank you to Bruce Kelly and Mikako Kelly of Tokyo for their
interview of Mr. Harada on September 21, 2014 and follow-up correspondence. Mr. Harada and his
brother Noriaki Harada, former president of Armstrong, kindly provided the portrait of their father.
Thank you also to Robin Radford (NZ) and the NZTTA and to Wesley Maness (USA).
---Steve Grant is the author of Ping Pong Fever,
the Madness That Swept 1902 America (2012).

No Longer Legal
The loofah was entirely legal
prior to the 1959 rule change.
So, too, would have been the
other bats pictured on this and
the next page, excepting any
that were too white or too
shiny. They were created by
artists of the 1960s Fluxus
movement. ---Steve G.
“Soft Ping-Pong Paddle”, 1964, George Maciunas, Harvard Art
Museums




Jay Turberville
www.jayandwanda.com
Hardbat: Gambler Zebra Classic w/ Dr. Evil
Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply
  Share Topic   

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down

Forum Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 12.01
Copyright ©2001-2018 Web Wiz Ltd.

This page was generated in 0.063 seconds.

Become a Fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Web Wiz News
About MyTableTennis.NET | Forum Help | Disclaimer

MyTableTennis.NET is the trading name of Alex Table Tennis Ltd.

Copyright ©2003-2019 Alex Table Tennis Ltd. All rights reserved.