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A Ball Club Forms in Philadelphia; It Later Adopts Base Ball, and Lasts to 1887

Salience Prominent
Tags African Americans, Pre-modern Rules
Location Philadelphia
City/State/Country: Philadelphia, PA, United States
Game Town Ball, Old-Cat Games
Age of Players Adult

The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia unites with a group of ball players based in Camden, NJ

Orem writes:  "An association of Town  Ball players began playing at Camden, New Jersey on Market Street in the Spring of 1831."

Orem says, without citing a source, that "On the first day but four players appeared, so the game was "Cat Ball," called in some parts of New England at the time "Two Old Cat."  Later accounts report that the club formed in 1833, although J. M. Ward [1888] also dated the formation of the club to 1831.  

Orem notes that "so great was the prejudice of the general public against the game at the time that the players were frequently censured by their friends for indulging in such a childish amusement."

* * *

In January 2017, Richard Hershberger reported (19CBB posting) that after more than five decades, the club disbanded in 1887 -- see Supplemental Text, below.

The Olympic Club played Town Ball until it switched to modern base ball in 1860.  See Chronology entry 1860.64.  

* * *

For a reconstruction of the rules of Philadelphia town ball, see Hershberger,  below. Games were played under the term "town ball" in Cincinnati as well as Philadelphia and a number of southern locations (for an unedited map of 23 locations with references to town ball, conduct an Enhanced Search for <town ball>.

* * *

The club is credited with several firsts in American baserunning games: 


[] 1833: first game played between two established clubs -- see Chronology entry 1833c.12.


[] 1837: first team to play in uniforms -- see Chronology entry 1837.14.


[] 1969: First interracial game -- See Chronology entry 1869.3.

* * *



[Orem, Preston D., Baseball (1845-1881) From the Newspaper Accounts(self-published, Altadena CA, 1961), page 4.]

Constitution of the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia [private printing, 1838]. Parts reprinted in Dean A. Sullivan, Compiler and Editor, Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 [University of Nebraska Press, 1995], pp. 5-8.

Richard Hershberger, "A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball," Base Ball, Volume 1 number 2 (Fall 2007), pp. 28-43.  Online as of 2017 at:


For a little more on the game of town ball, see http://protoball.org/Town_Ball.  



The "firsts" tentatively listed above are for the US play of baserunning games other than cricket.  Further analysis is needed to confirm or disconfirm its elements. 


Protoball would welcome an analysis of the US history of town ball and its variants.

It seems plausible that town ball was being played years earlier in the Philadelphia.  Newspaper accounts refer to cricket "and other ball games" being played locally as as early as 1822.  See Chronology entry 1822.3



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Is it accurate to call this a "town ball" club? When was it formed?  Dean Sullivan dates it to 1837, while J. M. Ward [Ward's Base Ball Book, page 18] sets 1831 as the date of formation. The constitution was revised in 1837, but the Olympic Club merged with the Camden Town ball Club in 1833, and that event is regarded as the formation date of the Olympics. The story of the Olympics is covered in "Sporting Gossip," by "the Critic" in an unidentified photocopy found at the Giamatti Research Center at the HOF. What appears to be a continuation of this article is also at the HOF. It is "Evolution of Baseball from 1833 Up to the Present Time," by Horace S. Fogel, and appeared in The Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph, March 22-23, 1908.

Are we certain that the "firsts" listed in this entry predate the initial appearance of the indicated innovations in American cricket?


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Has Supplemental Text Yes


<comments voting="Plus" />

Supplemental Text

The End of the Olympic Club

"The Olympic Club, of this city, which was the oldest organization in this country, is now defunct, internal dissensions having led to its disbandment.  It was organized as a town ball club in 1833, and adopted the game of base ball in 1860.  Many of the most influential residents of the Quaker City have figured on its rolls during the last half century."  The Sporting Life August 31, 1887

This is an exciting find, in a depressing sort of way.  This has been something of a holy grail for me.  I knew that the Olympics of Philadelphia finally gave up the ghost in the late 1880s, but never had anything specific.  After this date there are a couple of dinner parties for old Olympics, but no active club.

Richard Hershberger 19CBB Posting, 1/10/2017.