The earliest known softball game was played in Chicago, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. It took place at the Farragut Boat Club at a gathering to hear the outcome of the Yale University and Harvard University football game. When the score was announced and bets were settled, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove at a Harvard supporter. The Harvard fan grabbed a stick and swung at the rolled up glove. George Hancock, a reporter there, called out "Play ball!" and the game began, with the boxing glove tightened into a ball, a broom handle serving as a bat. He is credited as the game's inventor for his development of a 17" ball and an undersized bat in the next week. The Farragut Club soon set rules for the game, which spread quickly to outsiders.
Envisioned as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the winter, the sport was called "Indoor Baseball". Under the name of "Indoor-Outdoor", the game moved outside in the next year, and the first rules were published in 1889. In 1895 Lewis Rober, Sr. of Minneapolis organized outdoor games as exercise for firefighters; this game was known as kitten ball , lemon ball, or diamond ball. Rober's version of the game used a ball 12 inches in circumference, rather than the 16-inch ball used by the Farragut club, and eventually the Minneapolis ball prevailed, although the dimensions of the Minneapolis diamond were passed over in favor of the dimensions of the Chicago one. Rober may not have been familiar with the Farragut Club rules.
The name "softball" dates back to 1926. The name was coined by Walter Hakanson of the YMCA at a meeting of the National Recreation Congress. The name softball had spread across the United States by 1930 and by 1936, the Joint Rules Committee on Softball had standardized the rules and naming throughout the United States. By the 1940s, fastpitch began to dominate the game. Slow pitch achieved formal recognition in 1953 when it was added to the program of the Amateur Softball Association, and within a decade had surpassed fastpitch in popularity. In 1991, women's fastpitch softball was selected to debut at the 1996 Summer Olympics.