The Origin of Cornhole | History of the Midwest

Cornhole, like many other words, is the result of a long line of history with many alterations over time. Cornhole is now known, in the Midwest, as a sport where players toss bags onto opposing boards in order to score points. The surname Meadows, meaning those who live in a meadow, derived from pre 7th century word for meadow “maed”, or in Middle English “mede”. And, just as languages change, so does everything else, including cornhole. 

So let’s begin. Where did cornhole start?

For those who say it started in Germany in the 1300’s, they are sadly mistaken. Germany only became a nation state in 1871 and a country in 1990. Before that, around 1815 and after the defeat of Napolean, the Congress of Vienna reinstated the Germanic states into the German Confederation under the leadership of the Austrian Empire. These Germanic states began it’s industrial revolution in 1833 by abolishing tolls between various germany principalities and, with abbreviation, eventually became the Germany we know today.

Before becoming a country, and with the industrial revolution, families would be gone for long periods of time away from their children- the ones who did not have to work- and pastimes were invented for the periods where no one was working. As one can imagine, there would be many jobs available in close proximity of one another, within the same municipality. Of these occupations came Tanners and leather workers (in the profitable fur industry), Millers who dealt with corn and grain, Coach builders, Brewers- of German beer, of course, Clothes Weavers, Tailors, Sewers and more. These were some of the most common professions to have in the roots of early German Genealogy. What’s common about all of these professions is that each one plays a part in making a cornhole set.

Now, it was not called cornhole at all. There were many different varieties but it began by throwing small items into milk crates at the time. With the German beer flowing, this evolved into a game for gatherings and the various professions started crafting throwable objects out of leather and cloth, to see what works best. The collective innovation they had was very similar to that of China when they worked together, many different companies producing many different things, to create the hover board or “Self balancing scooter” in the Shenzhen region of China. (Now, litigation has distorted history some, regarding the hover board, but first efforts were collective by many companies and there are many first hand accounts of this.) With the many different versions made, and plastic nature of the German economy and state, there was no solidification of the sack and crate game. Except for the ones who took it with them.

In the early 1900’s, immigrants moved to the states of North America, from Germany, as the expansion out West began and the East coast started stabilizing. Right in the middle of this expansion vs stabilization was the midwest. These were gatherers and farmers who hunted and did not travel far. The largest portion of these immigrants came to a city we know as Cincinnati. Cincinnati has the largest German population, and these immigrants began arriving around 1830 and they brought all the goods, from their architecture to their games. Even the Cincinnati bridge, modeled off the Brooklyn Bridge, was designed by a German-born American, John A. Roebling.

These immigrants worked similar jobs, but some jobs changed and roles shifted, and so did the materials. More resources became available while others became less available. Some of the people already residing in Cincinnati had a game called horseshoes where you throw four horseshoes at a pole in the ground. The game of horseshoes was invented long before cornhole. In 1897, four bronze horseshoes were found in an old tomb that was believed to be dated from 400BC; you can imagine how old the game of horseshoes must be, then. All of this interaction was around the same time of the excitement for sports and baseball, and many people of that time found great joy in sporting leisure activities.

The skilled German immigrants saw this horseshoe game and decided to reinvent their old game of a crate. Horseshoes were loud, awkward to play, hard to keep score (while drinking German Beer) and difficult for other family members to join. (Imagine throwing metal objects at children). The game followed a similar format of players standing on opposite ends and alternating throws. The bags consisted of a similar makeup of old baseballs, which varied greatly in weight, size and materials. Some were even made of melted shoes wrapped in yarn, old clothing or leather. This is what eventually led to the patent of Heyliger de Windt’s game in 1883, for Parlor Quoits.

Sewing machines shortly became part of the family home, and were marketed as such, in 1889. Before, everything had to be made by hand in a makeshift manner. At that time, draft horses were used for very intense labor to plow fields for corn and oats. This was a dramatic change in farming from 1850 to 1900. This surplus of farming and combination of access to sewing machines led to corn eventually being used with the rough material of clothing, back in the day, to create bags for the game already being played. These were filled with yard, sand, dirt, beans and eventually corn. Heyliger de Windt was actually the first to noted using bean bags.

Soon after, a toymaker of MA was sold the rights to the patent and ended up marketing the game under his own name, “Faba Baga”. The game did not have one hole but, instead, two holes of different sizes and each were worth varying points. In addition to the holes, there were varying bag sizes such as the largest bag which was worth double points.

By 1900, over 600,000 telephones were in Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone system, leisure time began to be more prevalent and eventually the roaring 1920’s was the result of economic expansion and plenty of gossip. The game Faba Baga faded and traditional makers continue to make their own version, which was easiest to drink with German Beer, and the game made it’s launch. It was finally recognized, by many, after all of it’s iterations, as a back-elevated platform, with a hole and corn bags to be thrown at the platform. The game was so recognized, in fact, that in September of 1974 Popular Mechanics published a DIY, “How to Make Your Own Bag Toss Boards”. This was released in Illinois, through Chicago and the Northwest region of Indiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While the north was calling it “Bags” or “Bag toss” based off marketing, Cincinnati and those who traveled to Kentucky, after the civil war, were calling it Cornhole which was based off the original “Dadhole” or “Dad Boards”. Both parties have argued ever since.

Cornhole, or Bag Toss, has become a Midwest favorite, ever since. It has been played at weddings, graduations, parties, backyard grillouts and more. Some even think it can be an ESPN sport and have managed to create the ACL, American Cornhole League.

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