A Brief History
On March 19, 1954, William Joseph Mosconi (Willie to friends) set the all time record of making 526 balls in a row in straight pool, a record that still stands. From 1941 to 1957, Mosconi won the World Straight Pool Championship 15 times, a record never matched before or since. Along with his many tournament wins, Mosconi also developed and displayed numerous trick shots, amazing onlookers everywhere he played.
Not surprisingly, Willie was born into a family that owned a pool hall in Philadelphia and lived above the pool room. Little Willie was discouraged from playing pool (aka pocket billiards) but practiced with makeshift items such as broom sticks and potatoes! In 1919 at the age of 6, Willie was enough of a prodigy that a contest between Willie and the reigning World Champion billiards player was arranged. Willie lost the match but did well enough to impress the witnesses. By age 11 he was the juvenile champion and was already demonstrating trick shots that no other player performed.
In 1933, Willie placed a close second in the World Championships, earning a sponsorship from Brunswick, a major manufacturer of billiards equipment. Traveling around the country exhibiting Brunswick products and his own phenomenal skill, Willie’s next big achievement was winning a 1940-1941 tournament of champions in which he ran 125 balls from the break 5 times, a feat only 2 players had ever accomplished, and then only once apiece.
After service in the Army during World War II, Mosconi continued to dominate the world of straight pool (where you have to call each of your shots on any ball on the table, up to a winning score of 125 balls made), though a stroke suffered in 1956 slowed him down. In 1961 the Paul Newman/Jackie Gleason pool classic, The Hustler, featured a cameo appearance by Mosconi and included many closeups of Willie’s hands on the pool cue. The Hustler featured a character called “Minnesota Fats,” and in fact another top pool player named Rudolph Wanderone carried that same nickname. Wanderone created a “feud” with Mosconi to generate publicity, and the alleged feud kept both players in the public eye although Mosconi had retired from tournament pool in 1966.
Willie continued to make exhibition shots, and appeared on television and in movies, as well as writing books and articles, including an autobiography in 1993. In 1968 Mosconi was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame and in 1994 a US vs. Europe tournament was named in his honor. Willie died of a heart attack at the age of 80 in 1993 in his New Jersey home, arguably the greatest pool player of all time.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever won a pool championship? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Cohen, Stanley and Willie Mosconi. Willie’s Game: An Autobiography. Macmillan Pub Co, 1993.
Mizerak and Panozzo. Steve Mizerak’s Complete Book of Pool. McGraw-Hill, 1990.
Mosconi, Willie. Willie Mosconi On Pocket Billiards. Three Rivers Press, 1995.