Although it has been a playground staple for decades, the origins of the game Four Square remain somewhat murky, with differing accounts of how the game started and when. Some sources date the game back to the early 1960s, while others suggest that the game began only a decade or so prior to that time.
Accounts of Four Square Origins
One account, however, says the game evolved from a combination of handball, a game called “Paume” (popular in France in the 12th Century and consisting of teams of two players hitting a ball over a net – as in tennis but played without rackets originally) and lawn tennis, which featured a court divided into four quadrants. These three games eventually morphed into “boxball”, played by city dwellers who took advantage of the limited space needed by the game.
Boxball is believed to have made its first appearance around World War I and by World War II, it slowly transformed into the game we know as Four Square. The ball, originally a tennis ball, gave way to a larger ball that could be easily handled by youngsters with smaller hands. There are accounts of Four Square being mentioned in children’s books as far back as the 1800s and a game known as King’s Corners, similar to Four Square, is listed in children’s books in the early 1900s.
Four Square Spreads Throughout the World:
The game spread out from Europe and became popular not only in France and England, but New Zealand, Canada, Wales, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United States. In addition, Four Square also grew in popularity as it became a staple at summer camps. One theory has it that the abundance of summer workers from nations such as England and Australia may have contributed to the game’s growth in the United States.
Four Square received further notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s when it began to appear in a number of books that centered on classic children’s games (ironically, the books claimed to highlight “new” children’s games). These books made it possible for children (and adults) in remote areas to play the same games as those from urban areas of the country.
Canadian Start to Four Square?:
North of the border, a different story about the origin of Four Square exists. One amateur historian suggests that the game known in Canada as “Champ” was begun there in 1968 by four girls in the Westmount area of Quebec. In their version, the King or Queen began the game by serving from a line behind their box, rather than from inside their own box.
In Australia, “downball” incorporates many of the same rules used in the American version of Four Square but has some significant differences including:
- Up to six squares; A small tennis or rubber ball;
- Allowing a player to let the ball slide off of their arm rather than require it be hit by their hands only;
- Allowing a “bullet” shot which permits the player to strike the ball as hard as they can into an opponent’s square;
- Allowing a player to wave their hands at a ball in another player’s box (they cannot, however, touch the ball);
- Allowing a player to use their head or their foot to knock the ball into an opponent’s square.