What is a Ping Pong Ball Made Of?

The International Table Tennis Federation Museum shows the earliest version of tabletop ping pong dating back to the late 19th century.

What were ping pong balls made off in the 1800s?

Right at the beginning, ping pong was a fun-filled after-dinner pastime in England. In those days, cigar boxes were made of wood, and the tops were removed and used as paddles to hit balls made from a champagne cork’s top. Some sources indicate that book covers were used by some to hit golf balls on the dinner table after the meal remnants were removed.

What were the first real ping pong balls made of?

As ping pong’s popularity grew, it became clear that champagne corks and golf balls did not cut it. In 1901, a U.K. ping pong fan, James W. Gibb, traveled to the U.S. where he discovered celluloid balls. He was convinced that they were ideal for a game of ping pong. The nitrocellulose they were made from gave the balls the perfect bounciness necessary for ping pong.

Why are modern ping pong balls made of plastic?

Several experimental materials were used to replace nitrocellulose, which is a dangerously flammable material. Production of celluloid declined because its volatility poses transportation, shipping and storage risks. Thus, in 2014, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) — the governing body — authorized plastic material for making ping pong balls. The plastic used now is actually called Nitrocellulose polymers. It has several benefits while still having many celluloid characteristics.

What is Inside a Ping Pong Ball?

Many people ask whether ping pong balls are filled with helium. The fact is that ping pong balls have nothing more than air inside them.

To sum up

Ping pong has been a popular sport for more than 100 years, and it has certainly evolved significantly over time. Changing from champagne corks, golf balls, celluloid and ultimately a plastic material approved as the official material for ping pong balls by the ITTF.

One thing that has not changed is how much fun ping pong is, and that will likely never change.

Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.