The game of tennis was originally invented by European monks who played for entertainment during religious ceremonies. As the ball was initially hit with it, you could say that the hand was the first “racquet.” A protective, leather covering soon followed, and as the game developed, a handle was incorporated in order to serve the ball and hit with more power. With continual changes to maximize its use, the tennis racquet evolved into a modern device that can launch a ball across a tennis court at over one hundred miles per hour.
1859-1865: An English lawyer named Harry Gem, along with a friend Augurio Perera, invented a game which was based on a Basque ball game. It incorporated the use of racquets and was played on a croquet lawn.
1873: Major Walter Clopton Wingfield created and patented a related game which he called sphairistike, defined from ancient Greek as “skill at playing at ball.” Sphairistike (or “sticky” as it came to be called) is said to have evolved into the game of tennis, but some think tennis actually originated with Gem and Perera, with Gem giving Perera most of the credit in a letter he wrote in 1874.
1873: Wingfield developed and sold equipment to accompany his patented lawn tennis game which included lopsided racquets.
1877: The first Wimbledon Championships were played in London.
Wingfield’s lopsided racquets were replaced by symmetrical racquets like the one seen here, a Spalding Windermere from the mid-1880s.
Two ads from 1885: Spalding Racquets -featuring The Windermere, The Kenwood, The Union Club, The Junior and The No. 1. Horsman Rackets -The Brighton.
A Spalding Domino made between 1915 and 1920: Featured a bare wood grip with a leather strap at the base. The butt is also bare wood which is eventually covered with leather or fabric until the 1960s or 70s when plastic caps begin to cover the butt.
1930s: While not very popular at the time, a number of metal head/wooden handled racquets (left) were developed - particularly from the Dayton Racquet Company. These racquets also sometimes had metal strings.
1960s: Howard Head introduced a modern metal racquet. He also bought the Prince Tennis Company.
1968: The aluminum Wilson T2000 (above bottom) was made famous by Jimmy Conners. Aluminum racquets were flexible and allowed for greater modifications and larger heads.
1976: Introduction of the "Prince Advantage," the first oversized racquet which brought about racquet size limitations created by the International Tennis Federation in 1979.
1980s: Graphite-composite racquets were developed - graphite fibers were combined with other materials like fiberglass, boron and titanium.
2000 and on: Racquet development has leveled off. While small changes to racquet weight, materials and aerodynamics will persist, these will probably not radically change performance. The present area of interest lies in optimal response and strengthening the frame for impact with the tennis ball.