On May 3, 2024, we’re having another #ArchivesHashtagParty with this month’s focus on #ArchivesGames. Today we’re rolling in with a post on bowling and the National Archives that we hope is right up your alley. So we don’t cross the line, we promise to spare you of any more bowling puns!

National Archives employee organizations have a long tradition of fostering recreational activities among staff including golf, chess, tennis, basketball, softball, and ping-pong. But historically, one of our more popular games was bowling. 

Bowling was big with staff at the National Archives since the very beginning of the agency, and the Archives had a number of bowling teams throughout the years. 

In 1937, the National Archives Association (NAA) started its long-running “Bowl or Bust” tournament. National Archives bowlers, “both avid and apathetic,” were invited to a colossal bowling tournament on May 3, 1937. It was held at 8 p.m. at Arcadia Alleys on 14th Street and Park Road, NW, which was located above the old Arcade Market. 

Harry Baudu, the agency’s “bowling manager,” organized the tournament and assigned handicaps based on players’ experience or lack thereof. Staff paid 60 cents for three games in addition to chipping in an extra 15 cents to cover prizes. All staff were invited to participate or attend, but in the end, all 25 participants for the inaugural year ended up being men. 

Allen F. Jones, Chief of both the Division of Personnel and Pay Roll, and Division of Finance and Accounts, was overall winner. The National Archives Association presented him with a bowling trophy crowning him the “Chief of the Archives bowlers.” For the three games, he had a score of 359, which included a handicap of 50 pins. 

Howard T. Gardener of the Division of Repair and Preservation received a cash prize of $1.45 for coming in a close second with 357 (and a handicap of 60). Glenn G. Dorsey from the Supply Room totaled 354 (handicap of 42), coming in third and receiving $1.15 cash prize.

The highest single game prize of $1.00 was awarded to Thomas Bailey from the Division of Photographic Reproduction and Research for his single game high score of 138 (handicap of 20). H. Keller Mabbott from the Messenger Service was given a consolation cup for his low score of 244 (which included 60-pin handicap).

Setting aside any handicaps, Nelson Blake and Carl Pouncey actually knocked over the most pins, each rolling 326 for their three games. And no surprise that tourney organizer Baudu’s 126 was the highest single scoring game of the evening.

The tournament became an annual event for the National Archives Association but for its second year moved to Lucky Strikes on 14th Street and Riggs Road, NW, then later Convention Hall at 5th and L Streets. After that, it moved around for a number of years to various alleys in the city and suburbs.

In 1941, the Association started the “Nelson M. Blake Trophy” for the winner of the men’s division. The first winner was Theodore Schellenberg, but the following year, Blake took home the trophy named after himself. The Association had also added a women’s division and trophy to encourage more female staff to participate. Over the years, the annual tournament got bigger and bigger, eventually becoming the popular annual bowling party.

In 1955, the Archivist of the United States Bowling Trophy was inaugurated. The winner of the annual tournament got their name engraved on the trophy, which was on display in the National Archives Building. The winner received a replica trophy to keep, which was presented by the Archivist himself.

In addition, National Archives staff members entered teams in local bowling leagues, including several participating in mixed leagues composed of teams of both men and women. For several years the NAA even had its own bowling league running annually from fall through spring. Later, a summer league was added due to its popularity.

When the National Archives moved into the General Services Administration in 1949 and became the National Archives and Records Service, the GSA employee association sponsored yet another league, giving National Archives employees even more opportunities to bowl. 

In 1951, National Archives staff made the news when Kay and Wilton Brewington, Helen and Charley Wiseman, and Baudu, who comprised National Archives No. 5 bowling team, led with a record 2,121 score in the second annual Champion of Champions tournament in Arlington, VA. They had just been crowned champions of the National Archives mixed league that played at Penn Recreation Alleys in Washington, DC.

While the National Archives Association was open to all employees and did not discriminate based on race, creed, color, or national origin, before the 1960s some NARS bowling teams played at alleys in Virginia, which still allowed segregation. 

After President John F. Kennedy issued his executive order on equal employment opportunities, Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover instructed all National Archives recreational groups, including bowlers, to comply with the order. All subsequent NARS-related bowling activities were held at bowling alleys that were open to everyone. 

Harry Baudu, the Archives’ biggest bowling advocate, retired from the National Archives in 1965 after 48 years of federal service and almost 30 years with the National Archives. The bowling tournament continued for another few years, but the annual event ended in 1968 with the last recorded winner being James Hall.

Bowling alleys, too, lost popularity over the years. While at one point the nation’s capital had several alleys for National Archives staff to choose from, sadly we’re down to just one public bowling alley in the city.

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