How Did The Sport Of Squash Get Its Name?

Squash is a game played by two or four people in a court made with four walls and a small hollow rubber ball. The game of squash was thought to have originated in Harrow School in 1830; another called “racquets” inspired the game.

The game of squash got its name from the ‘squashable’ soft-feel ball players used. English schoolboys invented the game at Harrow in the mid-19th century. It was a softer version of another game played at that time called racquets. The squash court was like that of a Rugby Fives.

To play this new game, the Harrow boys used sawed-off racquets used in the game of rackets. This game version was called “baby racquets” or “soft racquets .”The ball was called a “squash,” and the shorter racket made it easier for, the younger smaller boys to play with.

Squash In A Nutshell

Squash is a two or four-player game; two players play singles squash, and four players play doubles squash. It is played in a court made of four walls. It’s played with a small, hollow rubber ball. Each player takes turns hitting the ball using a racquet; players can hit the ball on any wall.

Squash uses stringed racquets, a characteristic it shares with real tennis and the racquets games. Rackets have since evolved into ones used in the game of tennis. Since the 1980s, lighter materials such as graphite and aluminum mixed with titanium, Kevlar, and boron have been used in their production.

Squash Had Its Origins With The Sport Of Tennis

Real tennis is known as court tennis or royal tennis; it has been played since the Middle Ages; it became the modern game of lawn tennis. The term real was used by journalists in the early 20th century to distinguish it from modern-day lawn tennis. The word ‘tennis’ is from the French tenez meaning hold or pay attention.

Real tennis is an indoor game played on four irregular-sized walls, a hard cloth ball, and an asymmetrical racket. The game of racquets originated from the game of real tennis. The game required players to hit a ball against one or two walls. The ball, of golf-ball-size, made from wound cloth, and the racquet was a stretched tennis bat.

The game of racquets was believed to have been created in the early 18th century by prisoners at King’s Bench and Fleet debtors’ prisons in London. The game became popular outside the prison and was played in alleys behind pubs. It spread to schools, universities, and across Britain. 

Squash Racquets Was The Original Name For Squash

According to James Zug in his book, Squash: A History of the game (2007), squash was originally called “Squash Racquets,” and the ball used was called a “squash .”The very first official game of squash took place at Harrow in January 1865, but its origins can be traced to the late 1850s.

In the Newtonian, the magazine of Newton College, there was a passage from the “Racquets” column in the December 1875 issue which says: “Looking back to twenty years ago, we played in this court with an India-rubber ball, since designated by the euphonious name ‘squash.'”

The school’s headmaster probably gave this anonymous quote in the Newtonian magazine then. The headmaster, George Townsend Warner, educated at Harrow, was an avid racket sports player. Townsend left the school in 1858.

Rugby Fives Courts Facilitate Squash

The game of Racquets and the game of Rugby Fives influenced the creation of the sport of squash. The Harrow boys also used to call the game “Rugby squash” or “Rugby squash racquets .” Players would play Racquets in the Rugby Fives courts.

Rugby Fives is a handball game rather than a game played with rackets. Fives was played in an enclosed court. This game was also known as hand tennis and was created at Rugby School.

The Rugby Fives court looked very similar to a modern squash court.

A Rugby Five court is twenty-eight feet by eighteen, and a two-and-a-half-foot tin on the front wall; it also had side walls that sloped towards the back wall. Fives was popular in English public schools and was named for the hand’s five fingers.

Vulcanization Of Rubber Is A Game Changer

Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in 1850. This discovery had a huge impact on the game of tennis and squash. Vulcanized rubber is a process that prevents natural rubber from deteriorating too quickly; normally, rubber would decay in a few days.

This discovery led to balls being able to bounce on grass; traditional real tennis balls could not do so. Tennis, therefore, became an outdoor game with the development of the first modern rubber tennis balls.

Squash balls, made from natural rubber originally, were also known as India rubber. The Harrow boys used a thick rubber ball punctured with a hole before the vulcanization was discovered. The balls would be squashed against the wall when hit, leading to the name squash.

The students from Harrow realized that this squashed, flat racquetball was faster and more responsive than the regular ball. The vulcanization discovery meant that squash balls could now become even faster and more durable ones we know today.

Squash Started At Harrow And Spread Around England

With the opening of the new complex of racquets and fives courts at Harrow on 20th January 1865, the game of squash increased in popularity. Students preferred the newly invented game of baby racquets to either racquets or fives; the new courts became squash courts.

At Harrow, there was a yearly election to vote for the school’s cricket keeper. The whole school would vote, and after every vote, the other students would kick and push the voter. The whole process would last an hour; it was called squash.

Its popularity spread from Harrow School, located outside London, to other parts of England. The Harrow boys would take home the balls and racquets on holidays. They continued playing after graduation and built courts of their own. Its popularity spread to other public schools.

Squash arrived in London when Lord’s added a court in 1890.  Four years later, the Bath Club put in a few courts too. In 1905, Queen’s Club put up two courts. In April 1907, the Tennis, rackets and Fives Association was founded at Queen’s; they formed a squash sub-committee. 

The Aberdeen Squash Racquets Club opened in 1908. The Royal Automobile Club also built three squash courts in their Pall Mall clubhouse in 1911. The RMS Titanic also had a squash court in first class in 1912.

On the Titanic, the First-Class Squash Court was located on G-Deck; spectators could view the game from the viewing gallery, which was located on F-Deck. It cost 50 cents to play the game for an hour.

Squash Spreads From England To The USA

Squash made its debut in the United States in 1884 at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. St. Paul’s School built four open-air squash courts. By 1904, the United States Squash Rackets Association (USSRA) was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The game underwent further changes, and the Tennis, Rackets, and Fives Association, in 1907. The association could then create a system of standards for the new sport. In 1909 the sub-committee, therefore, issued a preliminary set of rules. But it was not until 1928 that the Squash Rackets Association formed (SRA)

 issued an official set of standards.

Harvard school built two squash courts in 1908. The game became popular in private men’s clubs in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Eventually, it also spread to the south and west of the USA as its prevalence increased.

A variety of different squash balls existed at that time. The English considered the speed of the American ball far too fast, so between 1930 and 1934, the SRA immediately slowed down the squash ball; by 1934, it was half the speed of the standard ball in 1928.

Squash Goes Global

Squash became a worldwide phenomenon and appeared in many formats in many countries worldwide. Asia was one of the first countries to build squash courts. In 1898 the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club built a court out of teak. The Bombay Gymkhana Club in India built its first courts in 1882.

In Canada, the first squash court was built in 1904 at the St. John’s Tennis Club in Newfoundland. The dimensions of this club were the same as that of a Rugby Fives court; there was no back wall. 

The dimensions were 28 feet long by 18 feet wide, with an upper limit of the in-court area being 15 feet for the front wall, sloping down the side walls to 4 feet 10 inches at the back wall. The Canadian Squash Racquets Association was formed in 1911 with three clubs.

In 1906, the Country Club Johannesburg built an open-air court; they started a national championship in 1910. There were six courts in Sudan and Khartoum; these were all without roofs. In Kenya, the Nairobi Club had two courts, and the Muthaiga Club had one. Dar es Salaam also had one court.

New Zealand, Spain, Trinidad, and Bermuda also had squash courts; Stockholm’s first courts had walls made of powdered marble. At the Melbourne Club, Australia, a racquets court was split into two squash courts. The Squash Rackets Association of Australia was formed in 1934. In 1937, Victoria and New South Wales had also formed associations.

Post-War Squash

After the Second World War, the game of squash became even more popular. In Egypt, squash flourished in Cairo and Alexandria. Today the sport is still dominated by professional players from Egypt. 

Pakistan also became a nation of squash champions; Hashim Khan won the 1951 British Open and became a national hero. Jahangir Khan is considered the greatest male squash player in the game’s history. In 1960 a court was opened in Peshawar by the Pakistan Air Force. The PIA Squash Complex opened in Karachi shortly after;  the Punjab Club in Lahore also built a club.

After 1950, Australia also built many commercial squash clubs and became champions on the world stage. Heather McKay, in particular, was one of the greatest female players in the game’s history; she was a tour de force in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles from 1962 to 1977. She also won the women’s World Open title in 1976.

Squash spread quickly in the twenty years after the end of the Second World War. Kenya, Greece, and Jersey had championships in 1947. Thailand in 1948, Hong Kong and Uganda in 1949. Guernsey in 1950; India in 1953; Mauritius in 1956; Zimbabwe in 1957; Hong Kong in 1961; Gibraltar in 1962; Bermuda and Zambia in 1964; and Bahamas and Ghana in 1965.

World Squash Federation

From the humble beginnings of Harrow boys, squash has now morphed into the World Squash Federation (WSF). The WSF has almost one hundred and fifty member nations. This organization controls the game’s rules and standards and specifications for rackets, balls, and courts.

Although squash has never made it to the Olympics as an official sport, it has been shortlisted three times for inclusion. Squash is, however, a big part of the Commonwealth Games and the Pan American Games.


The game of squash had its origins in the games of tennis, racquets, and Rugby Fives. In the beginning, players used the Rugby Fives courts or the Racquets courts to play squash; they used a shortened version of the racquet. Its name came from a rubber ball being hit against a wall and ‘squashed.’ 

Before it was called squash, it was referred to as “baby racquets,” “soft racquets,” and “squash racquets .”Squash has been around since 1830; it is now played in 185 countries, on nearly 50,000 courts; there are more than 20 million squash players worldwide.


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