A new logo for the FFPJP

In case you missed it… in April 2017 the FFPJP (the French national petanque federation) adopted a new logo.

The evolution of this logo reflects the ambition of the FFPJP for the coming years. Its style, both more dynamic and refined, brings to the Federation the image of a strong brand, in full development. The logo of the French Federation of Pétanque and Jeu Provençal affirms its visual identity.

The rooster (le coq gaulois) is an unofficial national symbol of France. Its association with France dates back to the Middle Ages and is due to a pun (in Latin) on Gallus (an inhabitant of Gaul) and gallus (a rooster or cockerel). For a lot of fascinating information about le coq gaulois (including its connection to weather vanes) see the Wikipedia article on the Gallic rooster..

A brief history of petanque in the USA

I originally planned this post as a companion to The Birth of the FPUSA. My idea was to provide a brief overview of the growth of petanque clubs in the USA. Unfortunately much of the information that I wanted was not available on the web, and I could not complete the project. Rather than simply discarding the material that I was able to collect, I post it here now, as the skeleton of what I wish I could have fleshed out into a more detailed account. — Stephen Ferg, April 2015


Starting in the early 1950s, Jean Raffa in Montréal and Jean Fuschino in Québec City began to popularize petanqe in French-speaking Canada. Jean Rafa later wrote a book, “Petanque au Québec” in which he reported that the pétanque players in Montréal and Québec City got together and formed the Federation Canadianne Bouliste Inc. The first competition of the new organization was held on Sunday July 15, 1956 at Parc Lafontaine in Montréal.


Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

The oldest petanque club in the United States is Le Mistral Club de Pétanque, which was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts (near Boston) in 1958. Later, it evolved into the current Boston Petanque Club.

The original founding members were French expatriates who emigrated from the Armenian community in Marseilles. The club is named after the famous cold winter wind that blows down the Rhone valley and through Marseilles.

In 1966, a triplette team from Le Mistral defeated teams from Trois Riviere, Quebec to win one of the earliest tournaments held in North America. Marcel Babayan, who passed away in 2004, was president of the club for 40 years and a major factor in the success of the club. Armenian members of Le Mistral dominated FPUSA teams to the World Championships between 1975 and 1987. Marcel Babayan represented the USA at three world championships; Albert Kallanian an incredible seven times. For more information about the club and its history, see our archive of the club’s web site.

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh.

The next oldest club is La Boule d’Or in San Francisco, founded in 1959 by Jean Bontemps, director of an import/export business in San Francisco. The early members were mostly French expatriates — Jean Krauer, Jean Bontemps, André Martin, Armand Squitieri, Charles Nicolas. When they first began playing, they used an English translation by Jean Bontemps of the 1952 FFBJPP national rules.


Photo courtesy of Monique Bricca, daughter of Armand Squitieri.

The group played in the Mission district next to 3rd Street, until new courts in Golden Gate Park were dedicated in 1959. In October 1960 they had their first International Tournament, with teams from France, Canada and Tunisia. The Boule d’Or team played a Canadian team in the final game and won.


Around 1960, Jean Bontemps read an article in Provence-Magazine, a French publication, that noted that there were many petanque players in Canada. Bontemps wondered “Why not try to convince the Americans?” He began traveling around America, flying from state to state, promoting the sport of boules. At some point he founded (or was instrumental in founding) the Pan-American Petanque Association (now the Pan-American Petanque Confederation), which held the first North American Petanque Championships (now le Coupe des Amériques) in San Francisco in 1962. By 1964, Provence-Magazine reported, Bontemps had visited 51 localities and “raised an army of over 11,000 licensees [sic].” [Thanks to Jac Verheul for digging up this information.]

Jean Bontemps (left) and an unidentified Canadian player (right) watch as George Christopher, the Mayor of San Fracisco, throws out a boule at the first North American Petanque Championship, in San Francisco, 1962.

Jacques Biaggini

Jacques Biaggini

When Jean Bontemps moved to Washington DC in the mid-1960s, he and Jacques Biaggini founded two clubs, La Joyeuse Boule and Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche. Early members included Maurice Ebolitto, and John and Gisele Hill. It was probably while playing at one of these two clubs that Alfred Levitt met Bontemps.

Joe Acciardi and La Joyeuse Boule still play in Maryland. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche seems to have faded from the scene, to be replaced by the National Capital Club de Petanque (NCCdP) founded by Bob Morrison.

La Boule New Yorkaise was founded in 1968 by the artist Alfred Levitt, who later went on to found the FPUSA in 1973. In the the early days Levitt and LBNY played on the gravel paths in Central Park near 106th Street. Later they moved to permanent courts in Washington Square Park, and still later to Bryant Park. LBNY is still one of the most vigorous clubs in the country.


An APA brochure. The mailing address is a PO box in Washington DC, but the telephone area code (301) is in Maryland.

Following the foundation of La Boule d’Or, a number of other clubs were established on the west coast, including La Boule Joyeuse sometime in the 1970s, and La Pétanque Marinière in 1972.

One of the founding members of La Pétanque Marinière was Armand Squitieri, who had earlier been one of the founding members of La Boule d’Or. Philip Bontemps says that his father Jean-Louis Bontemps (not the same person as Jean Bontemps), Rene Dimaio, and Marcel Parnel were three of the founders of the club, along with Louis Toulon and Pierre Joske. The club got its start from Le Club Lafayette, a French club in Marin, made up of French immigrants, generally gardeners, bakers, painters, mechanics, waiters, consulate employees, etc. They got together and started La Petanque Mariniere, which competed with other local petanque clubs a couple of times a year. That group, plus Albert Lucas all participated in the championship competition held in Washington DC.

In September 1975, the 11th World Championships were held in Québec City, Canada: the first and last time the World Championships were held in the Americas.

In 1973, Alfred Levitt founded the FPUSA in New York City. He was its first president, and stayed in office until 1985.

In 1976 Jean Bontemps founded the American Petanque Association (APA) (also known as PAM, Petanque America?) in Washington, DC. Its creation only three years after the creation of the FPUSA suggests that it was deliberately established as an alternative to the FPUSA… that is, as a national petanque organization that did NOT involve dealing with Levitt, a notoriously autocratic and difficult personality.


1982 - national championships, Washington DC

1982 – national championships, Washington DC

In 1982 a national championship was held on the Mall in Washington, DC. It is not clear who the competition organizer was. The APA certainly played a significant role, given its DC location and the fact that La Joyeuse Boule was the host club. Philip Bontemps reports that Alfred Levitt worked closely with Louis Toulon to make it happen. So perhaps both APA and FPUSA members participated, making it a truly national championship. This was the first national petanque championship held in the USA.

Note the club’s name in the upper left corner — La Joyeuse Boule — one of the two clubs that Jean Bontemps and Jacques Biaggini established in the DC area.

Playing on the National Mall

Playing on the National Mall

1983 saw the founding of another of the strongest and oldest clubs in the United states — the Los Angeles Petanque Club.

In 1988, the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club was organized in Sonoma, California, just north of San Francisco. An archive of early newsletters (1990-2003) can be found HERE.

1986 and the birth of a new FPUSA

Joseph Ardagna

Joseph Ardagna

In 1985 Alfred Levitt was forced into retirement as president of the FPUSA. When the dust had settled, Bob Morrison of the APA and Hans Jepson, the new president of the FPUSA, got together and easily negotiated a merger of the two organizations. The result was a single national organization, the FPUSA as we know it today.

Jepson served as the interim president until a new president could be elected by all of the clubs in the new Federation. The new president was Joseph Ardagna, of the Portsmouth Petanque Club.

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

When the two organizations agreed to merge, Bob Morrison and Joe Acciardi began work on organizing the United States’ first international tournament — the Championnat International de Petanque U.S.A., which took place on the weekend before Bastille Day, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

1991 marks a milestone in American petanque — Philippe Boets started Petanque America, the first (and still the only) vendor of competition petanque boules in the USA. The little company struggled until, as Philippe tells it, “The Internet saved us. There’s no other word for it. Especially because the US was way ahead with Internet at the time. I think we in the US – the smallest market on the planet as far as boules were concerned – were the first to put a boules catalog online, shortly followed by an online store.”

Gilles Canesse

Gilles Canesse


In 1979 Freddy Canesse immigrated to the USA from Calais. He moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1985, where he was joined by his younger brother Gilles. The brothers began playing with members of the local Alliance Française playing behind a restaurant on the Tamiami Trail, and around 1993 helped organize the Sarasota Club de Pétanque, which eventually evolved into (spawned?) the Manasota Boules Club.


The first annual Coupe des Amériques (not to be confused with the bicycling event) is held in Drummondville, Quebec. The plan is for it to be played every year, alternating between Canada and the USA. Since about 2004, it has been held in the USA in even-numbered years.


1996 marks the completion of the shift of the FPUSA’s center of gravity from the East Coast to the West Coast. Louis Toulon and Mike Norton, of the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club, are elected president and vice-president, respectively. The other officers are already from the West Coast, which means that now all five FPUSA officers are from the West Coast. Frank Pipal, also of VOMPC, agrees to become editor of the FPUSA newsletter.VOMPC_newsletter_clipping_1996

A second major milestone occurred in 2003, when Boets and Petanque America sponsored the first Petanque America Open (now, the Petanque Amelia Island Open), which has grown into THE major petanque event in the United States. The Open was held again in 2005, and then in 2009 (along with Petanque America itself) moved to its current location — Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, Florida.

A few noteworthy developments in the 21st century

In the United States, petanque clubs flicker into and out of existence. But there have been several recent cases where a club has shown remarkable vigor and growth.

In 2000, John Rolland started Boca Petanque 2000 in Boca Raton, Florida.

Bob Morrison worked with the Fairfax County park authorities, and by the early 2000s the National Capitol Club de Petanque was playing on dedicated terrains in Highlands Park, Arlington, Virginia. It was there that, in 2008, the first promotional video for petanque in the USA was filmed. The distinguished-looking gentleman in the opening scene is Joe Acciardi.

Shirley Jones helped create Carolina Petanque in November 2007. Shirley, who lives in Lexington, NC, first learned the game when she and her husband were vacationing in Floriday in 2004.

In March 2006, Tim Channell moved to Fresno, California and started to organize the Fresno Petanque Club. The FPC is remarkable for the speed with which it grew and the way that it has attracted members from Fresno’s large Hmong community.

In May 2008 Arsene Dupin moved to Austin, Texas from his native France. He found a small group that played at the French Legation Museum and they formed the Heart of Texas Pétanque Club which now plays regularly at the French Legation, Pease Park, Paggi Square and the Mueller Browning Hangar.

Outside of California and the west coast (the Portland and Seattle areas), petanque’s strongest foothold in the USA is in Florida. The state has many thriving clubs. Perhaps the most remarkable is the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach Boules Club, which was established in 2010 and has rapidly grown into the largest club in the US.

The Zanesfield Petanque Club was established in 2010 in the tiny town of Zanesfield, Ohio. Truly remarkable community participation has grown it at an astonishing rate, and it is now one of the most visible clubs in the country.

Zanesfield Petanque Club.   Click for larger view.

Zanesfield Petanque Club. Click for larger view.

Jean Bontemps — the Father of American Petanque

When I began researching this topic I wasn’t looking for “the Father of American Petanque” and I didn’t expect to find any single individual that might be a candidate for that title. But as it happens, I did.

Jean Bontemps started petanque clubs on both the West Coast in San Francisco and the East Coast in Washington DC. He travelled around the country for years, promoting petanque in towns and cities all across America. He started what is now the Pan-American Continental Confederation. Alfred Levitt met Bontemps in Washington, then returned to New York City and founded La Boule New Yorkaise and the FPUSA. Bontemps himself founded the APA. When the FPUSA and APA merged, Bontemps was the father of one and the grandfather (as it were) of the other. In my opinion, Bontemps (not Alfred Levitt) should be considered the true father of today’s FPUSA.

You get to be called “the father of (something)” partly because of what you did, and partly because your story provides a good starting point for the larger story that we tell ourselves about Where We Came From. On both counts, Jean Bontemps looks like The Father of American Petanque.

Additional sources of information
Valery Freschet is a French social anthropologist who has done a lot of work on Alfret Levitt and petanque in New York City. Her home page, with links to some of her research papers, is HERE.
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

Boules ELTÉ

ELTÉ was once a well-known and well-respected manufacturer of boules. In fact, along with JB, it was one of the original manufacturers of all-steel boules. Behind these two brands — LT and JB — were two remarkable men — Louis Tarchier and Jean Blanc.

By some accounts it was the Great Depression of 1929 that stimulated Louis Tarchier and Jean Blanc to go into business for themselves, and to develop the all-steel boule. But the dates just don’t work for that story. The evidence is that they had been working on their process since perhaps 1925, and produced their first boules in 1927 or 1928.

It is more probable that their inspiration was the development by Paul Courtieu of La Boule Intégrale, the first all-metal boule (cast in one piece from a “bronze” copper-aluminum alloy). Specifically, it seems likely that it was the approval of La Boule Intégrale by the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules in January 1925 that suggested to Tarchier and Blanc that there might be a market for an all-steel boule.

What we do know is that a man named Louis Tarchier, a gunsmith, and his friend and neighbor, Jean Blanc, a locksmith, lived in the little village of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château, and that sometime around 1925 Blanc came up with the idea that the two of them should go into business making metal boules.

Between the two of them they had the necessary skills and the necessary equipment. Blanc owned a metal press. Tarchier was one of the few specialists in the new technology of welding and cutting metal with an acetylene torch. They designed a manufacturing process, and invented and built the machines to do the various manufacturing steps. Blanc made the punches and dies to stamp steel blanks into hemispheres.

The manufacturing process was divided between the two men. Blanc cut long steel rods into slugs (basically stubby cylinders of steel) and stamped the slugs into disks and then into coquilles (“shells”, hollow hemispheres). Tarchier cut beveled edges into the shells, welded them together to form boules, polished them, and added the striations and markings. When it came time to temper the boules in the forge, Tarchier pumped the bellows and Blanc rotated the boules.

This is how boules are made... the process invented by Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier. A slug is cut off of a bar of steel, pounded into a flat steel disk, which is then pounded into a shell (coquille).  Two shells are welded (soudre) together to form a sphere, which is then machined into a smooth sphere, after which lines (stries) and engraving are added.

This is how boules are made… the process invented by Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier.
A slug is cut off of a bar of steel (acier), pounded into a flat steel disk, and then pounded into a shell (coquille). Two shells are welded (soudre) together to form a sphere, which is then machined into a smooth sphere, after which lines (stries) and engraving are added, and the boule is polished.

It took about three hours to manufacture a boule, and in the beginning it was difficult to control the final product. The two had to make boules for several months before they were able to make two of the same weight and the same diameter.

Together, they created the first all steel boules.

Each man had his own business and sold boules under his own brand name. They created their brand names from their initials. Louis Tarchier created the ELTÉ brand in 1930. Its logo, which was stamped on its boules, was Tarchier’s initials “LT” inside a circle. Jean Blanc created the “JB” brand. In very early JB boules, he also used a logo of his initials “JB” inside a circle.

Blanc died in 1933, at the age of 58. Jean Deville purchased the business’s machinery and continued to manufacture boules under the brand name of “JB”.

Louis Tarchier continued to manufacture “L.-T.” or ELTÉ boules, most of which were sent to, and sold through, La Boule Intégrale in Lyon.

petanque_boules_marked_MCAfter thirty-three years with the business, Tarchier retired, giving the business to his son-in-law, Maurice Crozet, who registered the trademark “MC” and carried on with the business. In 1987 the brand name and the factories were sold, and seven years later sold again to OBUT, which retired the ELTÉ brand name. OBUT also bought the JB brand in the 1990s, and retired it in 2012.

French wikipedia says Les boules Elté sont des boules artisanales, très différentes des boules produites à la chaîne, et estimées par les professionnels. — Elté boules were “artisanal” (craft, hand-made) boules, very different from mass-manufactured, and held in high esteem by professionals.

Most of the information in this post comes from the article on ELTE in the French wikipedia. That article cites only one reference, Jean-Michel Izoird and Gérard Pélisson-Lafay, La Pétanque, éditions ÉdiLoire.

Terminology – Origin of the word pétanque

pétanque — feet planted (firmly on the ground)

Q: What is the origin of the word “pétanque” (French) or “petanca” (Spanish)?

A: Two Occitan words meaning “feet” and “planted” were transliterated into French and then collapsed into the single French word “pétanque”.

Occitan (pronounced oksitan) is the old pre-French language of Provençe. Like French, Italian, and Spanish, Occitan is a “romance language” — a language descended from the language of the ancient Romans who occupied southern France and Spain for many centuries. Provençal is one of the six major dialects of Occitan. Occitan’s closest relative is Catalan, the language of Catalonia, the north-eastern Spanish province.

Occitan is not French, but the two languages are related through their Roman ancestry. In some cases, an Occitan word will resemble its French counterpart, and (thanks to the Norman Conquest) sometimes resemble a related English word. The Occitan word pèd (foot), for example, is related to the French word pied (foot) and such English words as “pedal”, “pedestrian”, and “podiatrist”.

As I say, we know that two Occitan words were run together to create the word pétanque. The first word was pès or pés which meant “feet”. The second word was something like tanca, tanco, tancats, tanqués. Some sources say that this word meant “together” or “tied together” while others say that it meant “planted”, “fixed”, or “anchored”. A definitive answer can be found in a Petanque America blog entry by Philippe Boets. Here is my lightly edited copy of that post.

Feet fixed or together?

The May, 2009 issue of France Today magazine lists a number of typical Provence terms, and of course “pétanque” is one of them. I’m so glad they use the term “feet fixed”, as opposed to “feet together”. Too many people think that your feet have to be glued together when you throw.

“tanca” is an old Provençal term meaning “blocked” or “fixed”. In todays’ Catalan, closely related to Provençal, the verb “tancar” is still used in that sense, and more generally as a term for “to close”. Because when you “block” an entrance or “fix” a window, you prevent further use, and actually “close” it.

It evolved into French as “tanquer” (“-er” being the common ending for a verb), also as a reflexive verb “se tanquer” meaning “to get stuck”, hence “to be stuck”.

The idea of standing still (or “being stuck”) when throwing a boule was quite revolutionary in 1907. For centuries folks had been running, jumping, you name it, when throwing boules. Imagine telling a javelin thrower today that there’s no more run-up.

A lot of people still think that “tanca” means “together”. No one cares how close together your feet are, as long as they’re immobile, and — when it comes to formal competitions — fit in the regulation 50cm (20″) diameter circle.

By the way, in the South of France, “tanqué” (the past participle of “tanquer”) is also used to describe someone who is well built, as a compliment: “C’est une femme bien tanquée!”

So the bottom line is that the ultimate origin of the word “petanque” is the Occitan words “pés tanca” which mean, basically, “feet planted (firmly on the ground)”.



Entre 1950 et 1960, naissent les premières « stars » de la pétanque. Cette dernière prend son essor sous l’impulsion d’Alphonse Baldi, dit « Le Bombardier Toulonnais », de François Bezza dit « Besse » et du fameux Ange Arcolao, dit « Bebert de Cagnes ». Ce dernier est d’ailleurs le premier à avoir  une carrière de plusieurs décennies.

Entre 1950 et 1960, naissent les premières « stars » de la pétanque. Cette dernière prend son essor sous l’impulsion d’Alphonse Baldi, dit « Le Bombardier Toulonnais », de François Bezza dit « Besse » et du fameux Ange Arcolao, dit « Bébert de Cagnes ». Ce dernier est d’ailleurs le premier à avoir une carrière de plusieurs décennies.

According to legend, Jules le Noir — who was the inspiration for the invention of petanque — was actually named Jules Hugues. “le Noir” was a nickname.

As Jon Bryant pointed out in an article called “Game of Life” (in France Magazine, original date unknown but probably July 2010) —

Nicknames used to be a big thing in boules. In most provençal villages, there would be a man known as Le Pendule (presumably for his regular arm swing) or Le Vieux (presumably as he’s been playing longer than anyone can remember) who was undefeated for over a decade and is still talked about by the locals.

Armand Vidal, who has written a dictionary of boule terms, laments the loss of the nickname. He writes that in the final of the Provençal tournament in 1909, all six men carried an official nickname — there was Le Blond, Petit Paul, Parpelet, Le Mecanicien. By 1931, only three of the six finalists had a recognizable sobriquet, and by 1976 only one finalist — so-called Bambi — was so distinguished.

Is the game getting more serious? Is too much money involved? Has the pace of life changed so much that there’s no impetus to label someone as anything but their own surname?

DictionnaireDeJeuDeBoules_ArmandVidalVidal’s book is Dictionnaire du jeu de boules: Tel qu’on le parle en Provence (Jeanne Laffitte, 1999) — toutes les expressions provençales du jeu de boules (boule provençale et pétanque), avec un index.

For more information about nicknames, see this and the last few pages of this.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

The birth of the FPUSA

The Federation of Petanque U.S.A. — the FPUSA — is the official governing body of the sport of pétanque in the United States. The FPUSA, as we know it today, was created in 1987 by the merger of two earlier organizations, the FPUSA and the APA.

Petanque is played in the United States wherever recent immigrants from France, particularly those from the south of France, have settled.

Following WWII there was an influx of French into the San Francisco Bay area, and petanque became a vehicle for social interaction at gatherings of the newly arrived. In 1959 the first petanque club in the United States, La Boule d’Or, was organized [in San Francisco] by Jean Bontemps, an importer from Provençe.  In 1960 La Boule d’Or was host to an international tournament on their home terrain in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Participants came from Quebec, France, and Tunisia.

Bontemps later moved to Washington DC, where he met Alfred Levitt, a painter. Levitt had been teaching art in St. Remy de Provençe, where he developed a love for petanque.

In New York, in 1968, Levitt founded the club La Boule New Yorkaise, which met to play petanque in Washington Square. Levitt contacted the FIPJP and with their blessing founded the Federation of Petanque, U.S.A., Inc. (FPUSA) in 1973.

— article “Petanque” by Frank Pipal
Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States
ed. Kirsh, Harris, Nolte

(The FPUSA was incorporated in New York State on September 27, 1973. Its company number is USNY235176. DOS (Dept. of State) number is 235176.)


The FPUSA was originally the creation of Alfred Levitt. Levitt, a painter, lived in New York City but traveled frequently to France where he ran an art school in Provence. Levitt discovered petanque in Provence, and brought the game back to the United States. In 1968, Levitt and his wife Gertrude founded the first petanque club in New York City, La Boule New Yorkaise (LBNY). At first they played on the gravel foot-paths in Central Park, and later moved to the gravel paths in Washington Square Park, closer to Levitt’s home in Greenwich Village.

There are suspicions that when Levitt contacted the FIPJP in 1973, he lied about the number and size of clubs in the USA in order to gain recognition from the FIPJP. In any event, he got it and the FPUSA came into existence in 1973, with Alfred Levitt as its first president. Eventually (by 1986) the FPUSA grew to 8 member clubs. Most clubs were located on the East Coast, but there were exceptions. On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Petanque Club and La Pétanque Marinière were members.

Alfred Levitt

Alfred Levitt, some time in the 1970s

At the time that Levitt created the FPUSA in New York City, petanque was better-established on the west coast — around San Francisco and the Bay area — than it was in New York. At that time, the San Francisco Bay area had (as it still does today) a healthy population of French chefs and French winegrowers. After Jean Bontemps founded La Boule d’Or in 1959, it was followed in the 1970’s by La Boule Joyeuse, and La Pétanque Marinière (1972).

In the mid-1960s Bontemps had moved to the Washington DC area and founded two local clubs. In 1976 he set up the American Petanque Association (APA) in Washington, DC, probably to create a national petanque organization not dominated by Alfred Levitt. Despite the APA’s east-coast base, most of its member clubs were located on the west coast. Eventually (by 1986) the APA had 14 member clubs.

For a number of years the APA and the FPUSA existed side-by-side. The APA did better than the FPUSA, and periodically sought recognition from the FIPJP. But the APA could never get official recognition from the FIPJP, which did not want to recognize two national petanque federations in the United States. That meant that during this period the APA wanted — but could never get — access for its members to international FIPJP championships.

There was interest on the part of the APA in merging with the FPUSA. But nothing ever came of it, primarily because of the prickly personality of Alfred Levitt. Levitt had an irritating, authoritarian, and aggressive personality, and apparently antagonized almost everyone he dealt with. The West Coast APA members found the New York-based Levitt too difficult to deal with, so they simply avoided him. The two organizations continued their separate existences.

Levitt was almost 90 years old, but had no plans to retire. Eventually, in 1985, he was forced out as president of the FPUSA. His successor as president of the FPUSA was Hans Jepson, also of La Boule New Yorkaise.

Bob Morrison, December 2013

Bob Morrison, December 2013

The end of the Levitt regime reopened the possibility for negotiations between the APA and the FPUSA. In 1986, Robert Morrison of the APA and the National Capital Club de Petanque in Washington DC got on a train and went up to New York City to meet with Jepson. Morrison remembers the negotiations as being almost a non-event. He proposed that the APA clubs merge with the FPUSA, and Jepson said “OK” and that was about it.

At the time, the FPUSA was the weaker of the two organizations, but it was the one with FIPJP recognition, so the new organization was known as the FPUSA. Jepson served as president pro tem of the new organization, until elections could be held early in 1987. Joseph Ardagna of Club de Petanque of Portsmouth, Virginia was elected as the first president of the new FPUSA.

When the two organizations agreed to merge, Bob Morrison and Joe Acciardi began work on organizing the United States’ first international tournament — the Championnat International de Petanque U.S.A.. Morrison financed the event out of his own pocket. The Championnat took place on the weekend before Bastille Day, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington D.C. It provided an opportunity for the players of the old APA and the old FPUSA to meet and play against each other, and against Canadian and European teams. It was a great success. Henri Bernard, then-president of the FIPJP, was in attendance, along with 50 triples teams from the US, Canada, France, and Switzerland.

It was a great kick-off party for the new national organization. Here are some pictures.

Historical record of the presidents of the FPUSA

The historical succession is difficult to reconstruct.
This information is not available on the FPUSA web site.

1973-1986 Alfred Levitt (founder)
1986-1986 Hans Jepson
1987-1992 Joseph Ardagna (first elected president of the new FPUSA created by the merger of the APA and the old FPUSA)
?-? Bob Morrison
?-1995-?-2002-? Michael Norton
?-2006-? John Rolland
2009-2011 Joe Martin
2011-2015 Ed Porto
2016- Ed Porto

About the sources

Information on this topic is difficult to find, often incomplete, and not always reliable. Some of the information in this article was obtained from personal discussions with Bob Morrison, of the National Capitol Club de Petanque, and Yngve Biltsted, of the Los Angeles Petanque Club. See also the Historic Issue of the Los Angeles Petanque Club newsletter, and the story by Frank Pipal on page five of the FPUSA Annual for 2012-2013. Photos of the 1987 tournament on the mall are courtesy of web site Jacques Biaggini, formerly of the La Joyeuse Boule club in Maryland.

The photo of Alfred Levitt is courtesy of Valérie Feschet’s excellent article on petanque in New York City, in Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. Alfred Levitt died in New York City in 2000, at the age of 105.

The FPUSA blog has an archived list of FPUSA participants in world championships up to 20008.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy its companion piece A brief history of petanque in the USA or some of our other history posts.

Petanque in Thailand

In 1933, following the death of her husband, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, and a democratic revolution that overturned the monarchy in Thailand, Princess Srinagarindra (1900-1995) (given name: Sangwan) and her three children moved to Switzerland. In 1946, her second son was invited, by a unanimous decision of the Thai Parliament, to accede to the throne as King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) of Thailand, making Princess Srinagarindra “Queen Mother” or “Princess Mother” of Thailand. She continued to live in Switzerland, visting Thailand occasionally, until 1964, when, at the age of 64, on a trip to rural Thailand, she discovered the extreme poverty of rural Thai life. It was a life-changing experience. She began a career of working to improve the lives of the Thai people in many ways — a career that ended only with her death in 1995.

During her long residence in Switzerland, she had discovered pétanque. She was an athletic person, and it is said that she played pétanque almost daily until well into her nineties.

In the 1970’s she introduced pétanque into Thailand, and encouraged playing of the sport at public schools nationwide and the creation of petanque teams for the police, army, and civil service. As a result, pétanque is now played more widely in Thailand than even in France. It is a mandatory part of Thai military training.

Today Thailand boasts 80,000 competitive pétanque players, and is a world power in the field of petanque.

In 1997, two years after her death, the Asian Petanque and Sports Boules Confederation was established. Thailand, along with Vietnam and Laos (two former French colonies), was among its important founding member nations. Today its member nations include Cambodia, Singapore, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, India, and Indonesia.

La Franc boules — the least-expensive line of FIPJP-approved competition boules, are manufactured in Bangkok, Thailand by the FBT Sports company. One of the few manufacturers of officially sanctioned pétanque boules outside of France, FBT (www.fbtsports.com) is also known for its excellent sportswear.

Further reading

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

Ernest Pitiot on the birth of petanque

Ernest Pitiot’s memories of how the game of Petanque got started.

It was in 1910 at La Ciotat, Bouches du Rhone, at the “Beraud” boulodrome that I used to run with my brother, that the game of pétanque was born.

All the great Jeu Provençal players of the region used to meet under the large plane trees at Beraud — players from Marseille: Grand-Jean, le Blond, Lombard nickname le Noir, Petit-Paul — players from Toulon: le Grele, le Pice, Chibalon, le Moult, the brothers Espanet de la Garde — players from Ciotat: Pinot, big Cesaire, Saint Jean, etc. All the top players used to play le Jeu Provençal for money every day with several shopkeepers from the town, games that used to attract a large number of spectators – who were allowed, for 5 centimes, to take a chair to follow the games but far too often they would stop the boules that were shot, for being seated they couldn’t get up fast enough.

We therefore took away the chairs to keep the players happy who, quite rightly, used to complain.

This decision was against the wishes of a good customer and friend “Jules le Noir”, a shopkeeper at La Ciotat who, crippled by rheumatism, could no longer hardly stand on his legs. Exceptionally, we granted him permission to have a chair on the condition that he would carefully keep to the side of the circle drawn on the ground before the jack was thrown and where the players regularly used to leave their boules while waiting their turn.

And from there, our Jules who could no longer participate in any game, used to amuse himself shooting at 1.5 or 2 meters with the boules left in the circle. “I’m practicing” he used to say to me. Very well one day, certain of pleasing him, I offered to play with him, without moving, “feet planted” [pieds tanqués] from 2 to 3 meters and we played.

We started again the next day, and the following days. The old players, who numbered quite a few, watched how we played, well enough that my brother organized a competition for the following Saturday. There were 8 teams of 2 players with a first prize of 10 francs.

“Pieds-tanqués” was born.

Subsequent competitions were successful and we played from 3 to 5 meters.

The game spread throughout the region, but thanks to numerous sailors, to builders from La Ciotat, that it took a rapid hold, because these sailors used to play Pieds-Tanqués in all the ports where they used to stop over.

The game that was casually called “Pieds-Tanqués”, “Piedstanques”, or “Pétanque” definitively became “Pétanque” during the preparation of the official rules by the Languedoc-Rousillon Federation of which I’m one of the founder members and President for several years.

E. Pitiot
With all my thanks to the Council at La Ciotat [hand-written note]

There are a number of interesting things about this account.

  1. There is a tradition, or legend, that pétanque was invented in 1907, and the first tournament held in 1910. However, Pitiot’s account says quite clearly that the game was invented in 1910, and the first tournament was held only a few days later. Pitiot says that the players played every day for money, so the idea of a competition “with a first prize of 10 francs” being organized very soon after the invention of the game seems quite plausible. That the games were played for money also helps explain the regular presence of spectators — who were probably doing some wagering as they watched.
  2. Pitiot says that “top players” from Marseille and Toulon used to come to Beraud to play against the Ciotat top players and local shopkeepers. In many versions of the legend, Jules le Noir was a famous and skillful Jeu Provençal player — a top player — disabled by rheumatism and frustrated by his inability to play. But in Pitiot’s account, le Noir is simply a local shopkeeper (commerçant) who is also a good customer and friend. There is no suggestion that le Noir was ever one of the top players.
  3. Legend has it that “Jules le Noir” was a nickname, and that the man’s real name was Jules Hugues.
  4. Pitiot says that petanque was invented at le Jeu de Boules “Béraud” — the Béraud boulodrome. Some accounts say that the boulodrome was called La Boule Etoilée, named after reflections of light from the nailed boules (boules cloutées) which were used at the time. Still other accounts say that the brothers ran a café called La Boule Etoilée and the boulodrome (terrain, piste) was attached to the café.
  5. It seems that the invention of the circle preceded the invention of the game of petanque itself. Apparently, Jeu Provençal players used to draw a circle on the ground, to mark off a spot where they could set down their boules when they weren’t playing. Le Noir was allowed to keep his chair, but only on condition that he kept it to the side of this circle. So it was a natural development that, in the very first game, le Noir should throw from the chair where he was sitting, and Pitiot should throw while standing next to him, in the circle.
  6. When the first petanque games were played, they were played at a distance of 3 to 5 meters. Today, of course, it is twice that— 6 to 10 meters.

This memoire exists in the form of a typewritten letter to the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP). The original is now, I believe, in the possession of the Boulodrome Jules le Noire, in La Ciotat. You can click on the image at the right to see a full-size version.

The English translation was prepared by Raymond Ager (aka “A Lot of Gaul”). I have tweaked that translation in a few places in an effort to better convey the flavor of the original. I translate Toulonnais as “from Toulon” rather than “from Toulouse”. I translate pieds tanqués as “feet planted” (on the ground) rather than “feet together”.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

The birth of pétanque

Games played with rolled or thrown balls date back to antiquity. We know that some form of ball game was played by the Egyptians, and then by the Greeks. The Romans learned it from the Greeks, and in turn taught it to the Gauls. In these games, the boule (bulla) was first made of stone. The Gauls, less skilled in stonework, made their boules out of boxwood (buxus), later known as bocco in the Provençal dialect, and bocce in Italian.

Various forms of boules were played in the middle ages, and as the Gauls evolved into the French, boules continued to be played during the French Revolution and on into the 19th century. (The British played lawn bowls; the Italians played Bocce.) Regional forms of the game evolved, including “La Rafle”, “la Boule Lyonnaise”, and others. Rules were published, federations created and competitions started. Boules Lyonnaise became a recognized sport in 1850 with the creation of the first official club “Le Clos Jouve”. The Fédération Lyonnaise was created in 1906. It later evolved into the National Bowls Federation (1933) and then the French Boules Federation (1942).


Pétanque — a new variant of a very old game

Petanque was invented in 1910 [1] in Provence, in the town of La Ciotat, a small port town and island located on the Riviera coast between Marseilles and Toulon.
Pictures of La Ciotat, at FlickRiver

At that time thousands of workers were employed in the local shipyard, and their favorite entertainment was to go to a boulodrome on Sunday. The popular boules game was le jeu provençal, also known le trois pas (three steps) because (for many throws) players took a three-step run-up before launching their balls. The game was also known as la longue because the terrain was long — up to 20 meters. The terrain had to be long because it had to include room — on both ends — for the long pre-launch run-up. In some versions of the game, the two ends of of the terrain are marked off by lines. A player could run up to the line, but had to launch the ball before stepping across the line.

There were several boulodromes in La Ciotat and they were always full. The largest boulodrome was the Béraud, located near the Sainte-Croix cemetery. Nearby was La Boule Etoilée, a café run by the Pitiot brothers, Ernest and Joseph.

According to Ernest Pitiot, every day the best players of the region would meet — and play for money — with the shopkeepers of the town. The games attracted onlookers, and for a while the Pitiot brothers made a little money by renting chairs for 5 centimes to spectators who would sit “ring side” at the boulodrome, relax, watch, and bet on the play.

But this caused problems. Sometimes a shot boule would go into the crowd of onlookers. Spectators who were seated couldn’t get up and out of the way quickly enough to avoid interfering with the boules. The players (who, remember, were playing for money, and took the games seriously) were unhappy. In the end, the Pitiot brothers decided to stop renting chairs.[2]

The couloir of players and spectators probably looked something like this when the Pitiot brothers were renting chairs to spectators. (Photo by Robert Doisneau from the book “Les Boules” by Paul Garcin)

One of the seated spectators was a local shopkeeper (commerçant) named Jules Hugues, known to history as Jules le Noir (or Lenoir), after his nickname “le Noir” (Blackie). At one time he had been one of the local players, but he had become so crippled by “rheumatism” (arthritis?) that he could no longer play. In fact, he could barely stand.[3]

Ernest Pitiot

Ernest Pitiot

In light of his disability, Lenoir was allowed to keep his chair, but with the stipulation that he must sit near the circle that players drew on the ground to mark the spot where they could set down their boules when they weren’t playing.

And from there, our Jules who could no longer participate in any game, used to amuse himself shooting at 1.5 or 2 meters with the boules left in the circle. “I’m practicing” he used to say to me.

Lenoir was both a good customer and friend of Ernest Pitiot. So it’s not surprizing that —

One day, certain of pleasing him, I offered to play with him, without moving, “feet planted” [pieds tanqués]…

It would have been natural, in that first-ever game of pieds tanqués, for Lenoir to throw from the chair where he was sitting, and for Ernest Pitiot to throw while standing next to him, in the circle.

We started again the next day, and the following days. The old players, who numbered quite a few, watched how we played, well enough that my brother [Joseph Pitiot] organized a competition for the following Saturday. There were 8 teams of 2 players with a first prize of 10 francs.

Interest in the new game spread surprisingly quickly. As it spread, other rules of le jeu provençal were tweaked or dropped, making the new game even more attractive.

  • The old jeu provençal requirement to “call the shot” (basically, to say in advance how you were going to throw the boule) was dropped. There was no longer any need to call the shot because all boules were thrown in the same way, while standing in the circle.
  • The practice of routinely marking the positions of boules (so that displaced boules could be re-spotted if the player had called the shot incorrectly) was also dropped.
  • Eliminating the need to call the shot and mark the balls greatly simplified the rules of the game.
  • Because players no longer had to throw while running, it was easier to be accurate. The game became less difficult.
  • With the running throw gone, the long run-up areas at the ends of the terrain could be eliminated, cutting in half the size of the terrain.

All of these changes made the new game not just different, but better — cheaper, less complicated, more accessible, more fun. Even its name became shorter and simpler. Jeu de boules pieds tanqués (game of boules with feet planted) quickly became simply pieds tanqués and then pétanque.

A new game was born.


Development of the all-metal boule

Two innovations created the game of petanque as we know it today — new rules, and a new kind of ball.

It is important to remember that in the early days, petanque, like its parent jeu provençal, was still played with the old nailed-wood balls, the boules cloutées. And in those early days, the production of boules cloutées was hampered by two things — a critical shortage of boxwood roots as raw material, and the First World War. The war ended and young men were able to return to their villages from the trenches. Many had suffered horrible wounds and lost arms and legs in the war. For them, perhaps, as for Jules Lenoir, petanque was a feasible game in the way that jeu provençal no longer was.

LaBouleIntegralThen, between 1923 and 1925, petanque received a technological shot in the arm. In Lyon, Paul Courtieu developed a manufacturing process for the first hollow, all-metal petanque ball, la Boule Intégrale. Ironically, he did it by employing some of the technology for making hollow metal bombs and artillery shells that had been developed during the war. Because he was concerned that rust might be a problem, he avoided iron and steel, and made the first all-metal ball from a special bronze-aluminum alloy that he developed himself.

At its annual convention in January 1925, the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules approved la Boule Intégrale for use in official competitions.

Between 1927 and 1929, the first steel ball (remember, la Boule Intégrale was made of a bronze-aluminum alloy, not steel) was manufactured at Saint-Bonnet le Château, a small village located west of St Etienne, in the department of the Loire, Rhône-Alpes region of France. Courtieu had cast the entire boule in a single operation. Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier, manufacturers in the village, developed a process in which steel blanks were stamped into hemispheres, and the hemispheres were then welded together to create the boule. (This process is used today for all petanque boules.) In 1928 Jean Blanc created the boules-manufacturing company that bore his initials— JB Petanque.

In 1904 Félix Rofritsch, a native of Alsace, settled in Marseilles and began making boules cloutées for jeu provençal. The company was successful, and when the new all-metal boules were introduced, Rofritsch bought a foundry and began producing all-metal boules. Félix’s two sons, Fortuné and Marcel, joined the company, and in 1947 they created the first boule made of carbon tempered Swedish steel. According to legend, heat treatment and hardening during the manufacturing process gave the new alloy a slightly blue color, so the Rofritsch company was renamed to La Boule Bleue. The Rofritsch family still owns the company and still manufactures La Boule Bleue; they are the only boule manufacturers in Marseilles.


Creation of the FIPJP

With the development of the steel boule, petanque began a meteoric rise in popularity. By 1935 there were an estimated 135,000 players in France, mostly in the South with a few in the Paris region.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, petanque was governed by the successor organization to the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules, the Fédération Française de Boules (FFB). The FFB governed several different types of boules games, but was dominated by the large number of boule lyonnaise players. Over time, a considerable amount of friction developed between the “traditionalists” and the growing number of petanque players.

In 1943, a big tournament was being planned for Montpellier. Ernest Pitiot, at that point director of the casino de Palavas-les-Flots, proposed that the competition also include pétanque. The story goes that the tournament organizers laughed him out of the meeting, calling petanque “un jeu de petite fille” — a game for little girls. Furious, Pitiot left, announcing that he would form his own federation for pétanque players. In a few days, the Languedoc-Roussillon league that he organized had 50 licensed players (licenciés, members), and it quickly grew to more than a thousand. The popularity of petanque was becoming impossible to ignore.

On January 16, 1945, representatives of boules committees from Basse-Alpes, Bouches du Rhône, Gard, Var and Vaucluse gathered in the O’Central bar in Marseille and founded the Fédération Française Bouliste du « Jeu Provençal et Pétanque », the FFBJPP. By the end of 1945 the FFBJPP had about 10,000 members.

The FFBJPP held its first championship tournament 1946, only a year after the end of the war. Before the competition began, the players marched to downtown Montpellier to lay a wreath at the war memorial. Martine Pilate, in researching her book about the brothers Pitiot, came to the conclusion that Montpellier, not La Ciotat, should really be considered the birthplace of petanque.

Ce qui m’a plus surprise fut de découvrir que, même si La Ciotat est le berceau de la pétanque, si Marseille revendique la pétanque, c’est en fait à Montpellier qu’elle fut officialisée pour la première fois.

What surprised me the most was the discovery that, even if La Ciotat is the birthplace of petanque, and Marseille lays claim to petanque, it was in fact in Montpellier that petanque was officially organized for the first time.

The popularity of petanque continued to spread, both within France and into other countries. A few years later petanque had clearly overtaken jeu provençal in popularity and the FFBJPP was renamed the Fédération Française de Pétanque et de Jeu Provençal, the FFPJP. For the first time, petanque got “first billing” in a federation name.

In late 1957, the Belgian Pétanque Federation organized an international tournament at Spa. At the tournament, players from six countries — Belgium, France, Monaco, Morocco, Switzerland and Tunisia — met and decided to create an international petanque federation. The six countries were later joined by a seventh, Spain, and on March 8th, 1958 in Marseille, the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal, the FIPJP, was born. In the rules published by the new Federation in 1959, the old boules cloutées are finally forbidden and laid to rest.

In the the technological Stone Age before the World Wide Web, coordinating a multi-national committee was difficult, and the FIPJP struggled. Between 1959 and 1966, it managed to organize six world championship tournaments (Spa, Cannes, Casablanca, Geneva, Madrid, Palma de Majorca), but there were managerial problems. The first president resigned in 1961. The French Federation was having its own problems and withdrew from the FIPJP in 1964. No world championship was organized for 1967, and at the end of 1967 the second president resigned. By 1968, the picture was bleak. The International Federation was comatose if not dead, and the French Federation was sickly.

Fortunately, the French were able to rally themselves. In 1969 the FFPJP elected a vigorous new leadership committee. The new president, Mr. Paul, contacted the other national federations with a view to breathing new life into the FIPJP. There was a meeting in Marseille in 1970. In 1971 a world championship — organized by Henri Bernard, the young new General Secretary of the FFPJP — was held in Nice. At the FIPJP meeting in Nice, Paul and Bernard (respectively, the president and the General Secretary of the French Federation) were elected as, respectively, the president and the General Secretary of the International Federation. In 1977 Paul stepped down from the presidency of both the FFPJP and the FIPJP, and Henri Bernard was elected as the President of the FIPJP, a post he occupied for over 30 years. And there have been FIPJP world championships every year since 1971, without interruption.


The rise of Obut

In 1955, Obut, a new boules manufacturer, was established in the same small town, Saint-Bonnet-le Chateau, where JB Petanque was located. Frédéric Bayet, a lock manufacturer in St-Bonnet le Château, created the “OBUT” trademark. New fully automatic production machines were designed by Antoine Depuy, a talented mechanic.

In 1958 Bayet called upon the Souvignet family to help expand the production, and in 1981, Robert Souvignet became Chairman and Managing Director of Obut. Today his son Pierre directs the company.

Due largely to the efficiency of its automated manufacturing techniques, OBUT quickly grew to be the largest manufacturer of competition petanque boules. In the process, it drove out of business (or bought and discontinued) many smaller and older manufacturers, including JB Petanque and Elté, the two oldest manufacturers of steel boules. In 2013, after several decades of economic decline, La Boule Intégrale, the third of the three companies that pioneered the development of all-metal boules, finally closed its doors.

Today Obut has about an 80% market share for competition petanque boules. It employs about 130 workers, and manufactures over four million petanque boules a year. Its only serious competitors are Chinese manufacturers, which dominate the world market for inexpensive leisure boules, and Thai manufacturers (like La Franc) which make less-expensive competition-quality boules.


Recent developments

Since the very beginning, the FIPJP world championships had been bi-annual affairs (in even-numbered years) of men’s triples.

  • In 1987, the FIPJP began holding bi-annual world championships for women (femmes), and for junior players (enfants).
  • In 2015, the FIPJP began holding a men’s singles world championship.

In July 2007, La Ciotat held a celebration on the (supposed) centennial of the invention of petanque. The older gentleman in the gray vest and white hair is Jules le Noir.

In 2008, the world pétanque tournament, La Marseillaise, attracted 4,300 teams, almost 13,000 competitors and over 200,000 spectators from all over the world.

As of 2012, the FIPJP has 47 national federations as members and there are more than 600,000 licensed players world-wide. About half of them are located in France.

Meeting of FIPJP Executive Committee - Rome, Italy - 13 April 2013

Meeting of FIPJP Executive Committee – Rome, Italy – 13 April 2013



[1] It is sometimes said that petanque was invented in 1907, but that story seems apocryphal. All of the available evidence points to 1910. See our post on Ernest Pitiot and the birth of petanque.

[2] According to The Guardian, “This could cause problems, because people sitting near the jack were not above giving a boule a sly nudge with their feet every now and then, to push it closer or further away – whatever served a friend’s cause.” This doesn’t seem very plausible, despite the fact that The Guardian attributes the story to Martine Pilate.

[3] In more florid versions of the legend, Lenoir is a past champion and outstanding player of le jeu provençal, now tragically paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.


Martine Pilate, the granddaughter of Joseph Pitiot and the grand-niece of Ernest, has written a historical novel about the creation of petanque — it is called La Véritable Histoire de la Pétanque, la légende des frères Pitiot (2005). You can read an interesting interview with her HERE.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

La Boule Intégrale and the rise of petanque

In January 2011, a momentous event occurred, completely unnoticed in the American press. The assets of La Boule Intégrale, perhaps the most important manufacturer of boules in the history of petanque, were sold at a public auction.

The origin of boules — a game involving the rolling of stone balls — is lost in antiquity. The ancient Egyptians played it. The Greeks played it — maybe they learned it from the Egyptians, The Greeks introduced it to the Romans. The Romans introduced the game to the Gauls, who began to play it with balls made of wood, eventually out of a very specific type of wood — boxwood root.

Gaul gradually became France. Boules was played there during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment. It was played during the Revolution, and into the 1800s.

To make a ball, it was necessary to find very old — centuries old — boxwood trees in the mountains, dig their roots from the ground, shape the roots into wooden blanks, and dry them slowly so that they didn’t crack. After that, the blanks were formed into wooden spheres by a skillful wood turner. With the development of mass-produced nails in the 1800’s the wooden balls began to be covered with metal nails, creating the boule cloutée, the nailed-wood ball.

Boules was popular in France, and the number of boules players grew through the 1800s, until — in the early 1920s — the sport of boules faced a catastrophic shortage of boxwood roots.

Around 1920, a young man named Paul Courtieu, along with a friend and co-worker Vincent Mille (a champion player of buoules lyonnaise), hit on the idea of manufacturing a ball made entirely of metal.

Courtieu lived in Lyon, and worked during the day at the Berliet Vénissieux factory as head of the mills — the company made handcuffs. He spent his nights in his workshop, trying to find the metal alloy best suited to the manufacture of boules. His work was inspired by the technology used to create spherical explosives during the Great War.

The two engineers rejected steel as too hard and too rust-prone. They began work on a rust-resistant alloy based on aluminum (which had been discovered thirty years earlier) and bronze. Their early attempts failed — the aluminum-bronze alloy was too soft, and too fragile to withstand the shock of a direct hit by another ball. But they kept at it. It took them two years, but they eventually succeeded in developing a suitable “bronze” alloy of copper, aluminum, and other metals. (The exact composition of the alloy is still a trade secret.)

In 1923 they filed a patent for a metal-alloy ball made of two welded-together metal hemispheres. The next year, in 1924, they filed a patent for a ball that was cast in one piece — “La Boule Intégrale” (the Integral Ball, often referred to simply as “the Intégrale”).

Casting La Boule Integral in a mold. The brownish sphere in the center of the mold is used to form the hollow interior of the boule.

Casting La Boule Integral in a mold. The brownish sphere in the center of the mold is used to form the hollow interior of the boule.

Casting a hollow boule leaves a hole in the boule, which is closed with a metal screw-in plug. You can see a plug at the lower left. It looks like a small brown circle on the boule.

Their new company was named “La Boule Intégrale”. At first, out of economic necessity, all machinery and equipment were designed and produced by Courtieu, who created them in the company’s first workshop (atelier) in a former coach house in Lyon.

The new all-metal balls were a serious threat to the established manufacturers of nailed-wood balls. For one thing, all-metal balls could be mass produced more quickly. A skilled nailer could not make more than 4 or 5 sets of 2 boules cloutées per day. For another thing, it had always been difficult to manufacture a well-balanced nailed-wood ball, while balance was a minor issue in the manufacture of an all-metal ball. In addition, with metal balls it became possible for each player to choose the weight of his balls regardless of the diameter of the ball. And there were concerns that the new metal balls would damage the nailed-wood balls already in use.

Naturally, the wooden ball manufacturers resisted the new metal balls. But Courtieu had Auguste Bataille in his corner. Bataille was the son of the former Deputy Mayor of Lyon and apparently a persuasive man. Bataille used his influence and all of his persuasive powers, and he succeeded. It took him two years, but Bataille did it.

A study by the boules federations determined that Integral Balls were about the same hardness as nailed-wood balls, so using the two together would not be problem. So at its annual convention in January 1925, the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules (the ancestor of the Fédération Française de Boules) approved the Boule Intégrale for use in all official competitions.

In hindsight, Courtieu saw this as a watershed moment in the history of petanque. With the introduction of the all-metal ball, petanque experienced an explosive growth in popularity.

Les différents comités de pétanque furent heureux de voir que grâce à la Boule Intégrale un engouement extraordinaire s’établit et qu’en peu de temps une multitude de nouveaux pétanqueurs se révélèrent. Un grand nombre de sociétés se fondèrent. La progression rapide de ce jeu parti de la Provence, de Marseille en particulier, gagna rapidement la France entière.

The different petanque federations were happy to see that, thanks to the Integral Ball, an extraordinary enthusiasm for petanque took root, and that in very little time a multitude of new petanque players (pétanqueurs) appeared. Many new companies were formed. The game quickly spread out from Provence and Marseille until it had conquered all of France.

Almost immediately Courtieu had competitors. Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier developed a process in which steel blanks were stamped into hemispheres and then welded together to form boules. That process eventually became the industry standard. The possibility of rust, which Courtieu and Mille had worked so hard to avoid, never turned out to be a serious issue with the steel boules.

In 1926 the company shareholders were listed as “Mille, Courtieu et Bataille”. In 1930 the shareholders were listed as “Courtieu, Bataille et Delaigue”. The other shareholders eventually left the company, leaving Courtieu the sole shareholder.

In time Courtieu’s son Etienne Bertholet assumed control of the company. Bertholet diversified the company by starting production of steel balls, which could be manufactured much more cheaply than bronze balls. The manufacture of steel balls was subcontracted out in 1960, but Boule Intégrale continued to manufacture bronze balls. Eventually, the AS de Carreau (Ace of Diamonds), or AC, was the only bronze boule on the market. It was a very soft boule, particularly suitable for hard terrains and for pointers who lob.

In 1969 Courtieu celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with Madame Courtieu, who had been his faithful collaborator in the management of the company from the beginning. He died on February 2, 1972.

Under Courtieu’s son Etienne Bertholet, the company continued to produce and innovate. It remained a family business until 1981, when it was sold to Florence et Peillon.

It was probably at that point that the company began to go down hill. Toward the end of its life it was making more money manufacturing bocce balls than petanque balls, which generated only a small part of its revenue. Its boules had always been known for their very high quality, but they were also rather expensive — this may have contributed to the decline in sales. In 2003 the company was transferred to a group of investors. Early in 2007 it ran out of money and was put into receivership. In January 2011, its assets were liquidated at a public auction.

The company had one last spasm of life before it died permanently (see this TV news report from Lyon — La Boule Intégrale est sauvée!). Two brothers, Patrick and Dominique Dauvergne, la fonderie Davergne, bought the brand name and stock for 50,000 euros. The company was back in business again with a new Integral web site. The resurrection was only temporary, however. In September 2013 La Fonderie Davergne stopped producing petanque boules for good, and the Intégrale name was laid to rest (mise en sommeil).

The bronze boule is not completely dead. The ETR and ETR Or are still being manufactured in Turin, Italy by a company called Unibloc.boule_unibloc_etr

And you can still purchase the Futura Bronze from Petanque America and other vendors.boules_FUTURA_Bronze

The photos and information in this post came from this French web page. The rather free translation is mine.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

Boules cloutées — nailed balls

Petanque hasn’t always been played with the all-metal ball that we’re familiar with today. In fact, such balls were introduced only around 1925. Before then, boules were always made of wood.

Sometimes the wooden boules were reinforced with nails. In French, a clou is a nail, so boules cloutées are “nailed balls”.

This is the first generation of boules cloutées. Note that the nails don’t cover the surface, but merely reinforce the boules. Click on the image, and then click again, to expand it.

Making boules required the wood of the boxwood root, which could be found in the hills of Provençe. There, the sun, heat, and harsh conditions produced stunted boxwood plants, more bush than tree, with very hard roots. The town of Aiguines became famous for its boules d’Aiguines manufactured from boxwood roots from the surrounding hills.

The turners would go out to look for boxwood bushes of the right size. When they found one, they would first remove the branches with a pocket knife, and then dig out the roots with a pick (la pitche). The root would be cleaned on the spot in order to reduce the load, and was then carried back to the village. There it was allowed to dry slowly for three years to make sure that that it wouldn’t crack.

When it was ready, the wood turners blocked out the shape with a saw, then the rough boule was turned on the lathe to give it the proper spherical shape. At that point it was turned over to the nailers.

The nailing (ferrage, from the French word for iron, fer) was done by women. The work required a hammer, a heavy stump of wood to serve as a workbench, and a rond de cepoun — a metal ring which was placed on the stump to hold the boule in position for nailing. A skilled worker could make at most eight or ten boules in a day.


Berthe Rouvier making a nailed boule.

Starting about 1850, cheap, plentiful machine-made nails gradually replaced the old hand-forged nails. As nails became cheaper, it became economically feasible for manufacturers to produce more boules cloutées, and to cover them with more and more nails. Eventually the boule cloutée became, in effect, a wooden core supporting a metal shell of nail-heads.

Nails of different metals and colors (steel, brass and copper) were used to create a wide variety of designs and patterns. Some of these old boules cloutées are genuine works of art and valued collectors items.

The number of boules players in France grew throughout the mid- and late-1800s and right up to World War I. But the growth couldn’t go on forever. The supply of boxwood roots was not unlimited. By the early 1920s the sport of petanque was facing a catastrophic shortage of boxwood roots.

Around 1920, a young man living in Lyon named Paul Courtieu, along with his friend Vincent Mille, hit on the idea of creating a ball made entirely of metal. After several years of development work, they were able to manufacture an all-metal boule of a copper-aluminum (“bronze”) alloy — the Boule Intégrale.

The all-metal ball had a number of advantages over the boule cloutée. For one thing, balance was an issue that could be dealt with effectively, whereas it had always been difficult to manufacture a well-balanced nailed-wood ball. In addition, metal balls allowed a player to choose the weight of his balls independently of their diameter.

In in 1925, La Boule Intégrale was approved for use in official competitions. Two years later Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier began manufacturing the first steel boules. By 1935, all-metal balls were required in competition play. The days of the boules cloutées rapidly drew to a close.

The last boule cloutée was probably manufactured some time in the 1940s. Nailed balls continued to be permitted in competitions until 1959, when the newly renamed Fédération Française de Pétanque et de Jeu Provençal issued rules that required players to use metal boules.

http://amelotomb.be/?p=2173 — a wonderful page with lots of information

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.