How Three Strikes became a “Turkey”


Graphic of bowling ball and pins

How Three Strikes became a Turkey – Have you ever heard someone use the word “turkey” when talking about bowling?  In bowling, a turkey means shooting three strikes in a row.  This silly name might sound like something someone came up with as a joke, but it actually has roots dating back hundreds of years ago!

During bowling tournaments way back in the 1800’s, some bowling centers gave food items out as prizes to anyone who could shoot three strikes in a row.  Around the time of Thanksgiving in the United States, some centers decided it would be appropriate to give a turkey to anyone who could achieve this feat.  When a player got three strikes in a row, their teammates would yell out “Turkey!” to let whoever was running the center know that someone had earned their prize.

In the 1930’s, the Great Depression left many families poor and hungry.  Bowling centers used this to their advantage and would offer turkeys as sweepstakes prizes during Thanksgiving and Christmas time.  When you hear about someone giving away a turkey, you might think of a frozen turkey that you buy for Thanksgiving.  But some of these centers actually gave out live turkeys!  Can you imagine if Laurel Lanes did that?  We’d need a turkey farm on the roof!

You might be thinking “Wow, I’ve hit three strikes in a row a lot of times, why haven’t I been rewarded?”  Keep in mind that back in those times bowling worked quite differently.  Automatic pinsetters hadn’t been invented yet, so all the pins were set by hand.  This often led to an uneven setup of the pins.  Some bowling centers would actually put weights in the bottom of some pins during tournaments to make it even more difficult to knock them down.  Back then, lanes were still cleaned and oiled by hand.  There was very little consistency from lane to lane, and you didn’t know how a ball was going to react.  To top it all off, bowling balls were made of a hard rubber, which made it even harder to throw accurately because they weren’t balanced too well.

It wasn’t easy at all to bowl back then, let alone get three strikes in a row.  Lucky for you, now we have a machine that
consistently cleans and oils all of our lanes.  You have a much better shot of bowling a turkey these days.  But when you do, all
you’re going to win are bragging rights!

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