A Brief History of Mahjong

Mahjong has been around in one form or another for almost one hundred and fifty years. We don't really know when or where it started, but it is believed it began somewhere in China when someone thought up the idea of a new game using money-based suits carved on tiles.  The Dots or Circles were coins, Bamboos* were strings of coins (coins in China had hollow centers, and coins were carried on strings instead of in coin purses) and Craks, short for the Chinese "Character" (Wan) seen this suit, represented 10,000 coins. China was a huge country even then, and many variations of the game existed, with different tiles used depending on where the game was being played. Eventually, the types of tiles and their numbers settled into the pattern we know today. Several foreigners living in China in the 1910s saw the game and understood its potential. One of these men was Joseph P. Babcock who thought up the name Mah-Jongg and co-founded the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America. He simplified the scoring and added Western numbers and letters to the Chinese numbers and words on the tiles, and exported sets to the States. And the Mah-Jongg craze began.

The name is spelled many different ways. I chose to use Mahjong. Other versions including Majong, Mah Jong, Mah-Jong and Mah Jongg, the spelling used by the National Mah Jongg League, are often used.

* Bamboos started out looking much more like strings of coins, but through the years they changed into bamboo stalks. Click here to see real strings of cash


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