Related Link: Historical Timeline for the ISF
The sport that we know today as 'softball' is said to have begun - indoors, actually - in 1887 on Thanksgiving Day in Chicago. A group of men had gathered together at Chicago's Farragut Boat Club for the Harvard-Yale football game. There were a lot of bets taking place, and once Yale had emerged victorious, the debts were paid and celebrating began. During the merriment, one of the happy Yale boosters picked up a boxing glove and - playfully - threw it at one of the Harvard fans. The latter noticed the glove coming at him, and picked up a stick and swung it at the glove, hitting it clear over the Yale fan's head. A reporter from the Chicago Board of Trade, George Hancock, was watching this unfold and thought that it could be used as a game. So, he tied up the boxing glove (with its own strings) into a sphere, took a broomstick handle, and, using chalk, marked lines on the floor. That night a game took place with 80 runs scored, and from there our sport had been born. Hancock set up rules and had his friends over to his house every Saturday night to play this new game. From there it spread all over Chicago. The first rulebook is said to have been issued (by Hancock) in 1889.
In 1895, Lewis Rober Sr. moved the game outside in a vacant lot outside of the Minneapolis, Minnesota firehouse he worked at so the firefighters could get some exercise while waiting for an alarm. Leagues began to be formed and the buildup for the game spread all over. It was known at that time as 'kitten league ball,' which was later shortened to 'kitten ball.' In 1922 the name 'kitten ball' was changed to 'diamond ball.' At different times, the name of the game also would include 'mush ball' and 'pumpkin ball.' It wasn't until 1926 that the term 'softball' was used, when Walter Hakanson of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) of Denver, Colorado conceived of it while attending a meeting in Greeley, Colorado to form the Colorado Amateur Softball Association. There have been many variations of the game over the years as well.
As the sport became more popular, leagues formed to help the sport grow. In 1931, an age 75-and-older team was formed, traveling around in suits playing the game, and calling themselves Kids and Kubs. Two years later the first-ever national amateur softball tournament took place in conjunction with Chicago's World's Fair and soon after, the reporter who wrote about the event, Leo Fischer, helped establish the Amateur Softball Association. Over the next seven years it was determined that more than five million players were active in the game. In 1946, the National Fastball League was established and was considered to be the top male fastpitch league to ever be put together. That year also saw the famous Eddie Feigner organize the King and His Court, a four-man softball team that took on all competition.
In 1951, the first National Softball Week was declared (for July 22-28). That same year, the first licensed female umpire was hired in organized softball. She was 25-year old Madeline Lorton from the Bronx in the state of New York.
Softball continued to spread to the rest of the world, with perhaps its biggest push coming from American servicemen playing and teaching the game on the fields of World War II. In 1952 the first meeting was held for the International Softball Federation (ISF), which would govern the sport around the world.
Author Karen Christensen, in the Encyclopedia of World Sport, notes that softball spread to the United Kingdom because of an American movie, "A Touch of Class," which was filmed in London and featured a softball game, which began to be played in England as a result.
The first world championship in international play took place in 1965, when women's teams from five countries competed in Australia. One year later, the first Men's World Championship would be played (in Mexico). World (fast pitch) championships for junior men and junior women were first played in 1981, and a Men's World Slow Pitch Championship debuted in 1987.
In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut as a medal sport at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2001 a World Cup competition was introduced for 16-and-under girls from the United States and around the world.
Sources: Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia, Softball Magazine, International Olympic Committee, Croatian Softball Association, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2003