Bowling History: The Origin of the “Turkey”

During the holiday season, it’s common for families to gather together and cook a big meal that often includes one particular item — a turkey. Whether or not a turkey is something that your family is excited to have on the holiday table, it is something that people are always excited to see at the bowling alley.

What is a “Turkey” in bowling?

In bowling terminology, a Turkey is three consecutive strikes in a row. There are also various terms for getting more than three consecutive strikes:

  • Four consecutive strikes: Hambone
  • Six consecutive strikes: Wild Turkey
  • Nine consecutive strikes: Golden Turkey
  • A Perfect Game, all strikes from start to finish: Dinosaur 

The term “Dinosaur” has its own unique history. A perfect game is supposed to be “non-existent like a dinosaur”, though in fact it has been done several times. Grazio Castellano was the first to bowl a perfect game on live television on October 4, 1953.

The history of the “Turkey”

While it’s not completely certain, the origin of the “Turkey” in bowling appears to have come from early bowling tournament prizes. In the late 1700s and early 1800s food was often given as a prize; various grocery items, a ham, or of course, a turkey would be awarded. in the case of turkeys, it became common to present a turkey to a player who bowled three strikes in a row. This trend was particularly popular around holidays like Thanksgiving. Eventually, food prizes fell out of fashion, but the “turkey” term stuck and has become an undeniable part of bowling lingo.

If you’re wondering if the original “Turkey” reward system resulted in a large number of awarded turkeys, it’s important to remember that the game of bowling was not the same as it is now, and achieving three strikes in a row was a much more difficult feat. Lanes were inconsistent, pins were set by hand, bowling balls were not well-balanced, and tournament organizers used tricks like weighted pins to make them harder to knock down. Because of these factors, bowling a “Turkey” was a huge accomplishment!

So, now that you’re aware of the handy history of the bowling “Turkey”, you have a fun anecdote to share at the holiday table this year!