History of Curling

The oldest artifacts from the ice sport of curling are stones that prehistoric people slid toward a target along frozen rivers or lakes. These people may have used primitive brooms to clear snow from the path of their sliding stones. In 1565, Holland's Peter Breugel painted Hunters in the Snow and another work depicting scenes resembling modern curling. Breugel's paintings support the premise held by some that curling originated in continental Europe. The Scots, however, are the undisputed developers and formalizers of the modern game.

By 1638, curling was considered, with golf and archery (in M. H. Adamson's poem The Muses Threnodie), to be a usual recreational pastime. After a huge growth spurt in the 19th century, curling was played by thousands in nearly every Scottish parish. Like that other Scottish sport, golf, curling is still both a recreational and an athletic pastime, marked by a strong code of fair-play and courtesy (The Spirit of Curling).

Between the 16th and 20th centuries, Scotland's climate warmed, and today the lochs rarely freeze. The climate change hindered curlers, who played outdoors on natural ice until the 20th century. Nonetheless, by the mid-1800's, the Scots had formalized curling's equipment and rules-of-play, and had established the "mother club" of curlers worldwide, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The RCCC is today the national governing body of curling in Scotland, with 20,000 active members now playing indoors on refrigerated ice.

The game of curling spread throughout the world through the efforts of thousands of Scottish soldiers and emigres. In North America, curling's origins likely date to the late 1700's, but the first documented record is the founding of the Montreal Curling Club in 1807. In 1832, the Orchard Lake Curling Club, near Detroit, became the first curling club in the United States. It was organized at the home of Dr. Robert Burns. The Orchard Lake group curled on Lake St. Clair. The oldest continuously-operating curling club in the United States is the Milwaukee, Wisconsin club, founded in 1845. The Scottish founders' roster included such names as: Murray, Ferguson, Dunlop, Gunyon, Findlay, Kinney, McFarland, and McFadyen.

Since the mid-1800's in the United States, curling has spread and thrived in northern states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. It is also popular in the Great Lakes, New England, and Mid-Atlantic states. There are dedicated pockets of curling activity in other states, including Alaska, Washington, California, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. In all, there are active curling clubs in 26 states. In the USA, there are 13,000+ curlers in 135 clubs. The largest curling club, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, has 700+ members.

Most clubs own their ice facility, but some clubs share space with other winter sports in community ice facilities run by the local town. A few of the shared facilities have a separate "ice house" specifically for curling, but some sites have just one or two ice rinks that are shared on a rotating schedule by hockey players, figure skaters, and curlers. Since curling requires a pebbly surface on the ice, while skating requires a smooth surface, coordinating the shared use of one ice rink can be challenging.

Founded in 1958, the United States Curling Association (USCA) governs curling in the United States. The USCA is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the World Curling Federation. Curling was a full medal sport at the first Olympic Games in 1924, but only a demonstration sport at the 1932 games. It returned as a demonstration sport for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, and then became a full medal sport at the 1998 Olympics in Japan.

There are about 1.5 million curlers from ages eight to 80, in 33 countries. The best-known American curler is Raymond "Bud" Somerville, of Superior, Wisconsin, who was the first inductee into the USCA's Hall of Fame. Somerville lead (skipped) his team to its first world championship in 1965, when Somerville was only 28. In 1992, at age 55, he skipped his team to a bronze medal at the Albertville Olympics when curling was a new demonstration sport.