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Set of Hyatt Billiard Balls in box

  • Manufactured by Albany Billiard Ball Company
    Albany, NY
  • 2.25 in. H x 9.5 in. W x 9.5 in. D, 2.125 in. diameter each
    Bakelite, cardboard
  • On display in Making Modernity
  • Purchased for Collections
  • 2007.076.001A-B


In the mid-1880s the billiard industry, worried about the decline of the ivory supply, offered $10,000 to the individual(s) who could make a better billiard ball. In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt submitted a patent for a billiard ball made from nitrocellulose, a compound he would later call celluloid. It is not clear whether Hyatt ever received the prize money, but a year later he had started an extremely successful company producing billiard balls, false teeth, piano keys, and other products from celluloid.

Celluloid is the name given to a group of compounds that are composed of nitrocellulose and camphor. Regarded as the first thermoplastic, celluloid was originally developed by Alexander Parkes in 1855, but it was not until the late 1860s, when John and Isaiah Hyatt began investigating the material as a replacement for ivory billiard balls, that celluloid became a commercial success. Celluloid was strong and easily moldable, which made it an easy replacement for such materials as ivory and wood. Celluloid was used in everything from billiard balls and other toys to cuffs and collars for shirts.

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