History of the 

Game of Quoits

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An ancient Brass Chakram

QUOITS has existed in one form or another for so many centuries that a compilation of the complete history of the sport is not possible.  Any references to ancient versions of quoits or other games played with quoit-like objects are derived from scattered documentation that only mentions these games, such as in historical writings.  The earliest mention of a quoit-like object was documented many centuries before the birth of Christ and was used as a weapon of war, by the early Romans and other ancient cultures.  These objects had sharpened outside edges and were made to spin on an up-raised finger to throw at an enemy, specifically to inflict bodily harm.  A good example of this weapon can be seen on the recent American television series "Zena, Warrior Princess", where the lead actress carried such a weapon and used it in almost every episode.  

"Zena" with her

favorite weapon

Statue of a Grecian

 Olympic Discus Thrower

The first references of a quoit being used in a sporting event occur at the Grecian Olympian Games, about two centuries B.C.  The sport of throwing a quoit, or Discus, as long a distance as possible, became extremely popular and one of the primary events in these Olympics.  The discus originally was a heavy, round, flat ring made of stone or metal.  A leather strap was tied through the central hole to be used as the handle for throwing.  The metal discs were made by pouring molten bronze, lead, or iron into a rough circular mold, and were somewhat costly to produce. Later versions of the Discus eliminated the hole and the strap, resulting in a solid disk similar to that used today.  The Discus was so special to the ancient Grecians that it was considered itself a valuable item; the winner of the discus event was many times awarded the disc as the prize for the competition.   
The Discus throwers were the most popular athlete of their time, and many people made their own versions of the Discus to entertain themselves and imitate their revered heroes.   Wealthier noblemen and others of Grecian and Roman upper society were the only ones who could afford to have these quoits poured and fashioned from bronze or iron.  In the Roman army, soldiers and camp followers originated the idea of using the worn, discarded shoes from the war horses as an inexpensive alternative to casting a quoit.  The horseshoes of that time were fairly heavy, perhaps as much as four pounds apiece, and were a readily available commodity. The soldiers would bend the discarded shoes into crude rings to imitate the shape of the discus. 
It is important to note that up through this time in history, Quoits were still being thrown competitively solely for distance, just as the Discus was.  Both the fancy, poured metal quoits and the crudely-formed army horseshoes were not pitched into a defined target area but were thrown for maximum distance as a show of strength and athleticism.  At some later, undocumented point in history, perhaps around a few centuries A.D., the idea of using a wooden stake or metal pin driven into the ground, to use specifically as a target to throw at, totally redefined the pastime from a game of distance to a game of accuracy.  At first only a single stake was used. Quoits made from the bent horseshoes became quite popular with the roaming armies as an entertaining pastime during the long treks between battles.  But since it was rather difficult to form the shoes into rings without the proper tools,  they eventually gave up bending the shoes into rings and began throwing them as they were.  Thus, from simple, handmade quoits made from worn-out horseshoes arose the origins of the present-day game of horseshoe pitching.  As the Romans traveled throughout Europe on their conquests, the games spread to other cultures, and invading armies eventually brought the games to Britain around the beginning of the second millennium.  It is here that Quoits developed into the form  having two pins set into clay pits, which can still be found to this day in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.  Quoits and Horseshoes developed in parallel from this point, but in somewhat different forms.

Horseshoe pitching 

Engraving, English Quoits

In England, Quoits became the preferred game and grew to become so popular that in 1361, King Edward III became worried that his subjects were using too much of their time to throw quoits rather than to practice shooting or using a bow to keep their skills of war honed.  He issued a decree that outlawed quoits and other "useless and time-wasting" games, but quoits continued to be played discreetly and never died out.  By the following century, quoits had again become legal and quite popular, enough so that it became a well-organized sport in the Taverns and Pubs in Britain.  Official rules for the sport were finally developed by an organization of Pubs in Northern England in 1881.
The English brought both the games of quoits and horseshoes with them when they settled in America in the 1600's.  Quoit pitching was mainly centered in the New York area, and spread north into New England and south as far as Washington D.C.  Horseshoes were the favored sport in the Midwest. Quoits achieved their highest popularity in the U.S. from the late 1800's through the 1930's, but then interest dropped off considerably. Quoit pitching has become even more scarce today, but continues to be played in the U.S. by small numbers of people in widely scattered concentrations and various local flavors.  Horseshoe pitching has dominated the American culture since the second World War, and is now a very popular sport for the backyard and for organized play.  Before World War II quoit leagues and public competitions were found in many communities, but today only a few small, informal clubs remain, and only in small pockets of the overall population.  

Painting of Americana Quoit Pitching 

The following is an excerpt from a 1947 edition of a book entitled "The New Encyclopedia of Sports" published by A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, which sums up the development of both quoits and horseshoes exceptionally well:

"The Romans, when invading England, long centuries ago, made that nation aware of the sport.  The sport found favor not only with the camp followers, and then the soldiers, but was taken up by the nobles and the aristocracy of the different nations.  It provided more than a means of sport; it was supposed to have value, due to the bending and lifting requirements in the case of obesity.  Eventually, the throwing of the light shoes was left to a few women, and youngsters, while the men threw a small discus, or the quoit of today, at stakes.

Thus especially in England, the twin sports grew up together.  Horseshoe pitching was a boy's game; quoits for men.  But the soldiers, on the march, continued to use horseshoes, since they were always available.  The stay-at-homes, in England, preferred quoits, and the sport was in high favor in England, and certain other parts of Europe, through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

English soldiers, arriving in the colonial New York area, introduced horseshoe pitching there.  Many settlers, who followed, brought along quoits. Thus, both games had devotees in the 17th and 18th centuries in America.  But, as was the case elsewhere, the American soldiers, in the Revolutionary War, settled upon the horseshoe game.  Quoits had to be carried along with the equipment; shoes were available whenever there was any camping and action by the "smithies.

Before the dawn of the 20th century, The quoit game was a great favorite along the Atlantic Seaboard, with horseshoes being preferred in the Middle West.  As time progressed, the quoit sport lost more and more, as to participants, while horseshoe pitching gained in almost spectacular fashion. While it now is difficult to find a quoit pitcher of the olden days, there are millions of Americans who have pitched horseshoes, at one time or another, during the last 50 years."

What was the reason for the fading demise of Quoits in the United States and the overwhelming popularity of Horseshoes among Americans?  This can be traced to one, small, single event, by one individual in American history, which revolutionized the game of Horseshoes and dealt a large blow to the quoiting community. Another excerpt from the same book above describes this event:
"The entire principle of horseshoe play was revolutionized in 1920 by George W. May, an Akron, Ohio, fireman.  May saw no reason why the player should concentrate merely upon getting close to the stake, and score just 1 point.  He decided to become a ringer specialist.  He started adjusting his fingers along the blades of the horseshoe, aiming to regulate the revolutions while the shoe was in the air.  By doing this, he finally acquired the knack of ringing the stake with startling frequency.
May entered the National Tournament of 1920 - absolutely an unknown - and put on the most astonishing ringer throwing exhibition seen up to that time.  He won 24 straight games - and the championship.  He tossed 430 ringers during the contest - an unbelievable total in those days.  He averaged better than one ringer in each two pitches.  Since then, every horseshoe pitcher, aspiring to greatness, needs become a specialist at tossing ringers.  So keen has become the art, that a top-line pitcher of today will toss almost as many ringers in one game as he threw, in earlier years, in an entire tournament.
An idea of the frequency of ringer-throwing today is shown by the ringer per cent in an average tournament for the United States championship.  Ted Allen, of Boulder, Colo., won the 1946 title, with a ringer average of .839, which means he made better than 8 ringers in every 10 tosses, during 22 games.  The best ringer percentage ever turned in by any player in a tournament was .861, by Guy Zimmerman in 1940."
People were so amazed at the ringer capabilities in pitching horseshoes that they started picking up the game in droves, at the same time bypassing the game of quoits in the process.  Everyone wanted to throw ringers, ringers, and more ringers.  The quoit, being round and with such a small hole, was very hard to ring on a pin, and it was this shape that disallowed any kind of throwing "technique" to make ringers easier.  Suddenly, quoits was boring to the masses, and horseshoe pitching was the game to play. Quoits were soon set aside in the barn, or the garage, or the basement to collect dust and be forgotten about.  Only the Old-timers and the die-hard quoit pitchers were left to carry the sport.  Thus ended the reign of the Quoit in America.
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