The origins of snooker balls actually derives from a game played on grass similar to croquette. Hence most cue sport games are played on a green baize which mimics grass.
Original snooker balls were made of ivory.
In the nineteenth century thousands of elephants were slaughtered to provide them. By 1890 nearly 15,000 cwt of ivory a year were passing through the Port of London. Around 12,000 elephants a year were being killed for their tusks. On average, only four balls could be made from each tusk. This was because only certain bits of a tusk were good enough quality for snooker balls.
To obtain a good set of Ivory snooker balls, therefore, would need seven to eight tusks.
An increasing demand for snooker balls and the growing scarcity of ivory led to experimentation with vanous substitutes.
Peter kinnear, a Scot who had emigrated to the United States in the 1860s, set to work to discover a substitute that would be cheaper and better than ivory. The problem was to find a suitable filler. Finally a friend called Hyatt, a chemist who also invented the ball-bearing, discovered a perfect solution in the chemical, cellulose nitrate, which became known as celluloid.
The modern day Aramith balls are made from a phenolic resin. The new Aramith tournament champion snooker balls have a one gram tolerance throughout a set of balls.
In my travels when out and about carrying out repairs to snooker tables I still come across ivory snooker balls from time to time. These balls would lose their shape eventually from continuous use, especially the cue ball.
It saddens me to think that the fine game of snooker based its origins around the slaughter of so many of these magnificent animals.