Origins and history
Curling is thought to have been invented in late medieval Scotland, with the first written reference to a contest using stones on ice coming from the records of Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, in February 1541. Two paintings (both dated 1565) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depict Dutch peasants curling—Scotland and the Low Countries had strong trading and cultural links during this period, which is also evident in the history of golf.
Evidence that curling existed in Scotland in the early 16th century includes a curling stone inscribed with the date 1511 (uncovered along with another bearing the date 1551) when an old pond was drained at Dunblane, Scotland. Kilsyth Curling Club claims to be the first club in the world, having been formally constituted in 1716; it is still in existence today. Kilsyth also claims the oldest purpose-built curling pond in the world at Colzium, in the form of a low dam creating a shallow pool some 100 × 250 metres in size, though this is now very seldom in condition for curling because of warmer winters.
The word curling first appears in print in 1620 in Perth, in the preface and the verses of a poem by Henry Adamson. The game was (and still is, in Scotland and Scottish-settled regions like southern New Zealand) also known as “the roaring game” because of the sound the stones make while traveling over the pebble (droplets of water applied to the playing surface). The verbal noun curling is formed from the Scots (and English) verb curl, which describes the motion of the stone.
In the early history of curling, the playing stones (or rocks) were simply flat-bottomed river stones that were sometimes notched or shaped; the thrower, unlike those of today, had little control over the stone, and relied more on luck than on skill and strategy.
It is recorded that in Darvel, East Ayrshire, the weavers relaxed by playing curling matches. The stones they used were the heavy stone weights from the weavers’ “warp beams,” fitted with a detachable handle for the purpose. Many a wife would keep her husband’s brass curling stone handle on the mantelpiece, brightly polished until the next time it was needed.
Outdoor curling was very popular in Scotland between the 16th and 19th centuries, as the climates provided good ice conditions every winter. Scotland is home to the international governing body for curling, the World Curling Federation, Perth, which originated as a committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the mother club of curling. Today, the game is most firmly established in Canada, having been taken there by Scottish emigrants. The Royal Montreal Curling Club, the oldest established sports club still active in North America, was established in 1807. The first curling club in the United States began in 1830, and the game was introduced to Switzerland and Sweden before the end of the 19th century, also by Scots. Today, curling is played all over Europe and has spread to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Korea.
The first world curling championship in the sport was limited to men and was known as the “Scotch Cup”, held in Falkirk and Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1959. The first world title was won by the Canadian team from Regina, Saskatchewan, skipped by Ernie Richardson. (The skip is the team member who calls the shots; see below.)
The first curling club in the United States was organized in 1830 only 30 miles from Detroit, at Orchard Lake, Michigan. Called the Orchard Lake Curling Club, the club used hickory block “stones”. The Detroit Curling Club was started in 1840 when Michigan only had a population of 212,000 and had only been in the Union for three years. About this time, an organization called the “Thistle Club” was founded and, curling being a winter sport, was played when the ice was suitable on the Detroit River at the foot of Joseph Campau; on the bay; and at the old Recreation Park. These clubs became the Granite Club, and in 1885, the present Detroit Curling Club was organized.
Curling has been an official sport in the Winter Olympic Games since the 1998 Winter Olympics. In February 2002, the International Olympic Committee retroactively decided that the curling competition from the 1924 Winter Olympics (originally called Semaine des Sports d’Hiver, or International Winter Sports Week) would be considered official Olympic events and no longer be considered demonstration events. Thus, the first Olympic medals in curling, which at the time was played outside, were awarded for the 1924 Winter Games, with the gold medal won by Great Britain and Ireland, two silver medals by Sweden, and the bronze by France. A demonstration tournament was also held during the 1932 Winter Olympic Games between four teams from Canada and four teams from the United States, with Canada winning 12 games to 4.