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Bags, baggo, bean bag toss…cornhole. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying it has become a favorite summer staple in the backyard, on the beach, or at the tailgate. For our more elite competitors, the game has also become synonymous with top tournaments, bragging rights, and even bigger cash prizes – as they rise the upper echelon of cornhole stardom.

Regardless of the level of finesse in your throw, most cornhole players know very little about the origins of their favorite pastime. Where did it come from? How did it start? What did it look like before it made its way onto college campuses and tailgate parties?

And as for the “corn,” what gives?

WHO PUT THE CORN IN CORNHOLE?

Like the best game of telephone or the juiciest rumor mill, the history of cornhole is a bit murky. There is no clear documentation and a lot of “he said, she said” when it comes to laying claim to the origins of the game.

Some sources give credit to fourteenth-century German cabinet maker, Matthais Kuepermann, on his quest to make playtime a bit safer for local children. After stumbling on a group of boys tossing rocks into a nearby groundhog’s hole, Kueperman put his carpentry skills to good use, building wooden boxes with holes and filling burlap bags with something a bit softer than rocks. Found in abundance at that time, corn was more often used for weight rather than food – making it a perfect alternative for this newfound, safer game. 

Old Cornhole Bags and New Colrn

Others say that it was Native Americans, particularly the Blackhawk tribe that invented the game, using dried beans to fill up pigs’ bladders to toss for competitive sport.

Still others, particularly our Midwestern neighbors in Cincinnati, Ohio, are adamant to lay claim as the birthplace of cornhole, filling bags with kernels hurled towards plywood holes. 

The good people of Kentucky may contend any notion that their beloved game of cornhole was invented anywhere but in their home state. It is believed that an early pioneer by the name Jebediah McGillicuddy played a version of the game in the foothills of Kentucky where it continues to be very popular today. The Kentucky connection is in keeping with the idea that cornhole started in the Midwest.

One of the more likely theories on the origins of cornhole is that it evolved from a game called “Parlor Quoits,” which was patented in 1883 by Heyliger de Windt. The game’s description includes most of the features of what we now call cornhole, but instead of a round hole, it had a square one.

Parlor Quoits is a variation of Quoits, which is similar to horseshoes. Players have to throw steel rings and try to get it to land over a metal spike or as close to it as possible. Like other “parlor quoits” patents before it, De Windt’s patent also attempted to recreate the quoits game-play to make it suitable for an indoor environment, but his patent varied from the others in that it used bean bags and had a target made of a slanted board with a hole.

After a Massachusetts toy manufacturer bought the rights to the game, they marketed a version of the game and called it “Faba Baga.” This too varies from the modern cornhole in that it has two holes of different sizes, each worth a different point. Each player gets an extra-large bag, which is worth double the points of the smaller-sized bag.

It’s likely that the current popularity of cornhole as we know it today began when Popular Mechanics magazine published an article on how to make cornhole boards in their September 1974 issue. By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the game had spread to Chicago and Illinois, as well as Northwest Indiana.

    SO, WHY CORN?

    While we may never know the true origin of cornhole, there is one thing we’re sure of – at some point in its storied history, corn used as the filling of bags for game play began falling to the wayside. What started as an economical use of a common product quickly turned into cornhole bags that would leave dust, residue, and in many cases decay overtime or if left outside. Plus, corn-filled cornhole bags are also more likely to attract critters, leaving you without holey bags for your next matchup. Today, premium cornhole bags replace corn with plastic resin pellets, making them entirely weather resistant and ready to play for years to come.