In the fall of 1928, Scarsdale, NY neighbors James (Jimmy) Cogswell and Fessenden (Fess) Blanchard were on a hunt for an outdoors winter sport close to home. This led them to build a multi-purpose wooden platform on a small strip of land on Cogswell’s property for deck tennis, badminton or volleyball. The size and shape of that strip of land had a significant effect on the whole future of Platform Paddle Tennis.
The job was completed by the end of November 1928. The result was a 48' x 20' green platform marked out for both badminton and deck tennis. The landscape proved a challenge. The platform couldn't be wider than 20 feet without raising it over a rock. The ground fell off so sharply at 48 feet in length that a major operation would be required to increase it. Volleyball was no longer an option.
They quickly realized that the unsheltered spot also was not ideal for badminton,[...]
As innovators of a new sport, the duo made a balanced team.
Jimmy Cogswell was a trained engineer with a job in sales. "He was fascinated with the question of how to build the court, the technical side of it," said his daughter, Do Cogswell Deland.
By contrast, Fess Blanchard "was so un-mechanical he couldn't change a light bulb," according to his daughter Molly Ware. He was the game’s pied piper, publicist, and chief promoter.
These complementary skills provided a great impetus to the development of the game.
The biggest stroke of luck was that these displaced Bostonians had ended up being neighbors in the first place. Blanchard had moved to New York to pursue a textile career in New York City, but Cogswell had set his sights on using his engineering training in a mining career in Canada. Fortunately, his wife would have none of that and he re-invented himself as a [...]
One day, Cogswell turned up with some short rectangular-shaped paddles and spongy balls, which he discovered in a sporting goods store.
The equipment was used for paddle tennis, a game invented several years earlier by Reverend Frank Beal for cramped urban playgrounds. Beal and Frank Contessa had established the American Paddle Tennis association in 1922 to promote the game and market equipment - see Frank B. Contessa
While deck tennis rings and badminton birds were easy to keep in bounds, paddle tennis balls were a challenge. To keep the balls from running down the surrounding landscape, the court needed back and side wiring. Before long two-inch mesh chicken wires were stapled to eight feet high upright two by fours that surrounded the court. Gradually the court was completely surrounded by wires. The screens rose to 12 feet by 1932 as play evolved.
Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Paddle Tennis, 1944, and Platform Paddle Tennis, 1959
Blanchard and Cogswell soon decided that the badminton 44' x 20' measurements were much better than the 39' x 18' measurements used in the original form of paddle tennis. By using the outer lines of badminton doubles, only two feet separated each back line and the chicken wire. This didn’t give them enough room to swing their paddles.
This led [...]
The net height was lowered and court dimensions altered from the original Paddle Tennis standards. These changes and the adoption of the one serve rule allowed for a nice balance of advantage between server and receiver.
The one serve rule was adopted at the beginning and has never been seriously challenged
The dimensions from Cogswell's original court, including service and single court measurements, have stood the test of time.
There have been a number of experiments at changing them, including an APTA sponsored experiment at Fox Meadow Tennis Club in 1956
From the first game, Jimmy and Fess knew they were onto something promising. The court became a gathering place for their families and friends to socialize, play and fine-tune the game. The expanding circle of founders dubbed themselves the Old Army Athletes, for Old Army Road on which the Cogswell’s house stood.
During the winters of 1928, 1929, and 1930, the Old Army Athletes shaped the rules and character of platform tennis. They made it a family game, a sport that players of disparate abilities and ages could play together happily. This enthusiastic group of 25-30 families infused the game with the camaraderie and informality that has become its hallmark.
The Old Army Athletes even started a ”marital championship” with sixteen teams of husband-wife pairs only. There was a penalty of one point for each time a husband criticized the play of his wife, and vice vers[...]
An article on Contessa by Vicky Cosstick appeared in in Paddle World, Vol. 1 No. 5, Fall 1976
In the article John Ware, Blanchard’s son-in-law, referred to him as the ‘missing link” between paddle tennis and platform tennis as Contessa who developed, manufactured and promoted the paddle tennis racket, net and balls which Blanchard and Cogswell bought in a New York store.
Through his church activities, Contessa met the Rev Frank Beal whose boys were playing street paddle with crude saw-cut bats, and in 1922 Contessa left his Wall Street career to form with Beal, the American Paddle Tennis Assoc. with the aim of marketing the game and equipment specifically for under-privileged youth.
Contessa began with the financial backing of Wall Street colleagues, and space donated by his brother Joseph in the basement of a yarn warehouse at 131 Spring St. (in what is now called SoHo, [...]
The Great Depression also influenced the formative years of paddle. Money was short, and even those who were not suffering were reluctant to spend it.
In paddle, gear was cheap, no particular clothes were needed, and a court could be built for as little as $400.
It was a perfect game for lean times.