James I. Holcomb (the namesake of the J.I. Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium) and Jacob Frederick “Fred” Hoke met during a Jefferson, Kentucky, Sunday School class in 1894.  The two men could not have been more different intellectually – Holcomb attended the University of Michigan, Hoke did not finish the 8th grade.  Together, the formed a company  – Holcomb & Hoke – which would last over 100 years and produce many different types of products, including the Box Ball Bowling Alley Lanes advertised in the 1907 clipping above.

Holcomb & Hoke, then primarily producing brushes and located in Sullivan, Indiana, purchased the American Box Ball Company in 1903 and began producing Box Ball Bowling Alleys under the American Box Ball name.  The purchase prompted the relocation of the company’s headquarters to Indianapolis.

A Box Ball Bowling Alley was touted as  a modified version of bowling, using smaller balls in knocking down five pins set horizontally across a wooden alley. Lanes were portable and available in three sizes, providing for quick and easy installation in amusements parks, bars and other entertainment venues both big and small.” (History of Hoke & Holcomb, J.H. Fentress Antique Popcorn Museum)  The popularity of Box Ball Alleys lasted until about 1910, and after the market was saturated, Holcomb & Hoke moved on to what would be their legacy – the Butter-Kist Popcorn Machine, which would serve as the model for those so popular today at school carnivals and movie theaters.

Through the years, Holcomb & Hoke also produced freezer counters to display meat at grocery stores, accordion wall partitions, and a “just add water” jelly mix.  Holcomb passed away in 1962, and Hoke passed away in 1966 – both are buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.  The company continued long after their deaths, until 2009, when Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Company closed the doors at 1545 Van Buren Street – the location it occupied for over one hundred years.

5 responses to “Sunday Adverts: American Box Ball Company”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Got lucky years ago and swam in his swimming pool through friends at his house on the upper end of Cold Spring Road in about 1959. I think he donated his house to Butler, but I’m not sure.

  2. H William Bauer says:


    I just read this article. I am the great grand son of Daniel Talbert, the inventor of most of the mechanisms to the box ball game and also the popcorn machine. He had worked for these companies and had invented many items as per this patent reference I recently found Thought you might be interested. Sure wish he had willed us some $ – ha ha !

    Best Regards,


  3. Anonymous says:


  4. David Newill says:

    There is a working “box ball” machine in Abilene KS. I actually bowled on it last Friday! The owner has the original patent documents.

  5. Jerry kail says:

    I recently ran across an old picture of a Ladoga storefront with a “Box Ball Alley” sign in the window. I was happy to run across this HI article to provide background on what would otherwise have likely remained a mystery.

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