By 1900, Irish 4-wall handball
was well established in the U.S..
Just before that the Amateur
Athletic Union was founded to
promote and control sportsmanship in
The beaches of South Brooklyn had
long fairly high wooden jetties to
prevent beach erosion. Bathers, at
low tide, used the jetty sides as
walls to hit a "bald"
tennis ball with open hand against
them. Areas were marked off in the
sand and single-wall handball was
born. These bathers would go to
beaches fully clothed and change
into beach clothes in lockers at the
various Baths that had been built
for them and for promenaders.
In 1909, Charles J. O'Connell
convinced Charles Keene, manager of
the Parkway Baths, to build a
one-wall handball court at his
establishment. It was such an
immediate success that one beach
club after another built 1-wall
courts for their members. Within a
few years Brighton Beach Baths had
more than 20 1-wall courts in almost
Within 10 years, the A.A.U. held
the first city-wide tournament. By
the '20's there were more courts
indoors and many A.A.U. tournaments.
The Metropolitan Association, A.A.U.
held N.Y. State and Metropolitan
A.A.U. tournaments. The National
A.A.U. sanctioned the Nationals in
the Metropolitan area.
In the '30's, the N.Y.C. Parks
Department put up thousands of
courts in the five boroughs. There
were tournaments almost every week
during the warmer months. Many
athletic clubs had built 1-wall
courts indoors and there was intense
competition between their teams.
Women's tourneys starting in the
'30's were outdoors at the beaches.
By the '40's there were other
courts away from the South Brooklyn
beaches. Except for WWII years,
there was lots of activity. >From
1913 there had been, in the
newspapers, coverage of all types of
handball. After WWII, handball as an
amateur sport with few spectators,
got decreasing coverage in the
media. In the '50's, with little
exception, there was only a National
A.A.U. tournament and that was about
it. The last A.A.U. tournament was
in 1976 in Coney Island.
In 1959 Irving Ehrlich who had
founded the Brownsville Handball
Club promoted and ran the huge first
National U.S.H.A. 1-Wall tourney
(which has been held annually, with
2 exceptions, ever since).
The original ball before the
'20's was a cross between the Irish
4-Wall Hardball which is like a
golfball, and the bald tennis ball.
The official "Ace"
handball used today is very much in
keeping with the
"official" balls used
through the years. Of course, the
growing game in the Metropolitan
area is "Big Blue" that
uses a racquetball instead of the
Ace or any others of its kind.
The rules of the game, through
many versions, are really very much
unchanged. However, in each of the
many printings, there are many
changes in wording. C.J. O'Connell
continued his interest from the
early 1900's, wrote the first rules
and continued to be active in all
phases of the game until he died at
age 93. He wrote many A.A.U.
handbooks and other published books
on handball that may be available