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Alley Cat: 1943

Alley Cat: 1943

April 1943. Washington, D.C. "Pin boy at a bowling alley." Nitrate negative by Esther Bubley for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Pin Boy action

Having been a pin boy back in the early 40s I would say that the position of pin boy indicates that he is about to swing over into next pit out of harms way. Good pin boys knew how to get out of the way before ball hit the pins, usually by swinging into next pit to set pins up there. I use to have times that I would swing four lanes because some one called in sick. It was a very thankless job and back then we got paid 7¢ per game.

Providence Duckpins

I was a pinsetter at a duckpin bowling alley (Sullivan's) in Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1950s.
We had a small seat between the two alleys we worked. Had to be sure to keep your feet high enough to avoid getting hit by a gutter ball.

I can recall jumping into the pit after a bowler had used three balls, only to look up just in time to see the unexpected fourth ball coming down the alley straight at me.

We had a foot pedal in the pit, used to raise metal pins up into the pin spots. The bowling pins had small holes in their bottoms into which the metal pins would fit to exactly position them. It was fun once in a while to jam the foot pedal, keeping the metal pins raised up inside the bowling pins. The look on a bowler's face was great when they watched their hard-flung ball just bounce off the pins.

Bamboo Alley

When I lived in the Philippines in the 1980s, there were still bowling alleys with the smaller "duck pins" like these, set up by young boys. There was a bamboo platform just above the pins and the boys would climb up there when the ball was coming down the alley.


I had this job in the mid 60's in Germany, at a local Kegelbahn, a one-lane alley behind a local bar, a Kneipe, in Stuttgart. As the evening wore on, the bowlers got a bang out of trying to catch me short, but I really cleaned up the tips from the "tipsy" bowlers at closng time, when they told me what a good sport I was.

Washington DC

First Job

My very first job as a kid was setting candlepins in an 8 lane bowling alley in Dorchester, Massachusetts. After setting up the pins, we pinboys sat up on the ledge behind the pit with our legs on the divider between the lanes. We often got hit by pins or balls from aggressive bowlers all of whom were known to us the way catchers know pitchers.

Pin Monkey

My father was a “pin monkey” (as he called it) during the late 1940’s. It was very difficult work for a kid. Not only was he was knocked out by the occasional flying pin, the boys were also tasked with reapplying lacquer to the bowling pins. The fumes from the lacquer also knocked some of them out!

Regional Bowling Variations

Let's hear it for regional bowling variants! The mid-Atlantic has duckpin, New England has candlepin, and then Vancouver has five-pin. Fun.

Football pose.

Take this guy out of the alley, put a jersey on him and stick a football under his arm. You'll end up with a classic running back pose from the fifties.

Nowhere to hide

When I was a boy, there were still some old bowling alleys that had pin boys. After setting the pins, they would hop up onto a bench that was above and behind the pins. When the balls started flying, the boys were out of the line of fire. This guy doesn't appear to have that option. He must have had quick reflexes. Or a very short career.

Tips from a Tipster

My parents used to tell the story that after a game in a bowling alley that had pinboys, they would "bowl" coins down the alley for their tips.

Someone explain

Where does he go when he's not resetting pins? Surely he doesn't just hang out back there, waiting to be whacked by bowling balls as if he were the 11th pin?

Duckpin Locations

This site lists 61 remaining locations in the US (as of February 2009). The alley closest to me is still duckpin. I love the game. The best parts: you get up to three shots per frame, you don't strain your wrist rolling the (2-4 pound) balls, and the pins fly around a lot more. There has never been a perfect game bowled.

Ah yes, duckpins

When I was growing up in the 50s in DC, we had advanced beyond the unfortunate man in the picture to mechanical pin setters but we all started out on duckpins, and these days no one seems to have ever heard of them. Too bad, we had fun with them and bowled decent scores (everything is relative) starting at six or seven years old, way before we could handle a tenpin ball.

Rhode Island

We've got a few duckpin alleys here in Rhode Island. There was a duckpin alley in Woonsocket open as late as the mid-70's that used to employ pin boys.

Bowl Noir

Geez Louise, this is grim. All that padding, and the guy looks all intent -- intense -- and sweaty. Wonder how many gutterballs he had to dodge. Yikes.


Those look like duck pins. Won't find many of those around today.

World's Worst Jobs

You might have a separate photo gallery under this heading and include this photo in it.

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