The sport 'softball' that we know today is said to have begun - indoors, actually - in 1887 on Thanksgiving Day in Chicago. A group of men had gathered together at Chicago's Farragut Boat Club for the Harvard-Yale football game. There were a lot of bets taking place, and once Yale had emerged victorious, the debts were paid and celebrating began. During the merriment, one of the happy Yale boosters picked up a boxing glove and - playfully - threw it at one of the Harvard fans. The latter noticed the glove coming at him, and picked up a stick and swung it at the glove, hitting it clear over the Yale fan's head. A reporter from the Chicago Board of Trade, George Hancock, was watching this unfold and thought that it could be used as a game. So, he tied up the boxing glove (with its own strings) into a sphere, took a broomstick handle, and, using chalk, marked lines on the floor. That night a game took place with 80 runs scored, and from there our sport had been born. Hancock set up rules and had his friends over to his house every Saturday night to play this new game. From there it spread all over Chicago. The first rulebook is said to have been issued (by Hancock) in 1889.
In 1895, Lewis Rober Sr. moved the game outside in a vacant lot outside of the Minneapolis, Minnesota firehouse he worked at so the firefighters could get some exercise while waiting for an alarm. Leagues began to be formed and the buildup for the game spread all over. It was known at that time as 'kitten league ball,' which was later shortened to 'kitten ball.' In 1922 the name 'kitten ball' was changed to 'diamond ball.' At different times, the name of the game also would include 'mush ball' and 'pumpkin ball.' It wasn't until 1926 that the term 'softball' was used, when Walter Hakanson of the YMCA of Denver, Colorado conceived of it while attending a meeting in Greeley, Colorado to form the Colorado Amateur Softball Association. There have been many variations of the game over the years as well. In 1946, the National Fastball League was established and was considered to be the top male fastpitch league to ever be put together.
Softball continued to spread to the rest of the world, with perhaps its biggest push coming from American servicemen playing and teaching the game on the fields of World War II. In 1952 the first meeting was held for the International Softball Federation (ISF), which would govern the sport around the world.
The first world championship in international play took place in 1965, when women's teams from five countries competed in Australia. One year later, the first Men's World Championship would be played (in Mexico). World (fast pitch) championships for junior men and junior women were first played in 1981, and a Men's World Slow Pitch Championship debuted in 1987. Beginning in 2012, all four major World Championships are held on two-year cycles, with the Men’s and Junior Women’s Championships taking place in odd years, and Women’s and Junior Men’s taking place in even years.
In 1991, women's fast-pitch softball was selected to debut as a medal sport at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Women’s softball was on the program for four Olympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008) before being left off in 2012 and 2016. The International Softball Federation (ISF) and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) have recently combined their efforts for Olympic inclusion by forming the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), and subsequently launched its PlayBall2020 campaign.