Snooker balls are balls of different colors that are used for playing games such as billiards and snooker. Modern snooker balls have been developed over the years as materials available have changed and the old materials were either deemed too expensive, inappropriate or not effective to play the game.

One material that snooker balls were made from in the past was ivory, obviously this material became highly expensive but the moral issues of playing with ivory far outweighed the monetary concerns. Another former material used was wood, but these old wooden balls were not really suitable for the game.

Dr John Wesley

A breakthrough in the manufacturing of snooker balls came in 1870 by Dr. John Wesley and the invention of cellulose nitrate which was the first industrial plastic. These first plastics were developed further and resins were born. Today nearly all snooker and pool balls are made from phenolic resin

Ivory Balls

Ivory Balls

The first snooker balls demanded the killing of elephants to obtain the ivory from their tusks. Even before world abhorrence of the practice came to the fore the material was proving just too expensive to provide balls for a parlor game!

But it was not until the 19th Century that the realization that elephants were of limited supply actually dawned, and it was becoming apparent that the poor creatures were nearing extinction.

Wooden Balls

As an alternative to ivory, producers of snooker balls turned to wood. The wooden balls were a complete failure, they had a tendency to get damaged easily and only lasted for a short period of time before they basically burst. The other problem with wooden balls was that they did not behave like ivory in terms of how they bounced off cushions etc.


Before he invented plastic, John Wesley unearthed celluloid which resembled ivory in so many ways. And in fact, celluloid was the first material to be patented in America. The problem with the balls made of this new material was that they had a tendency to explode which of course ruined games and damaged tables.

Even though cellulose was adapted into cellulose nitrate a few years later this material was still quite unstable. Manufacturers turned to other materials such as bakelite and a myriad of other plastic-based materials. But is was not until phenolic resins came about a solution became apparent. 

Phenolic Resin

Phenolic Resin is a perfect material for snooker balls, it is chip and scratch resistant and that is why it is still used today to make balls of high quality that are perfect for playing snooker, billiard, or pool. The balls also have the amazing quality to look like they have just been polished, and the resins included in the manufacture keep the balls in their perfectly round shape.

Millions of avid snooker players and pool players can still enjoy playing the game that they love thanks to Dr. John Wesley and his devotion to science. And the elephant community of the world has recovered to roam freely in their natural habitat.