Promoter: Phelan and Collender of New York City
Prize: $10,000 (Today's value $136,000)
Winner: John Wesley Hyatt (unofficially, as no winner was formally announced)
Finding viable alternatives to untenable resources is so often the root of new ideas. In the mid-nineteenth century, the billiard ball industry’s grossly unethical hunt for elephant ivory was pushing the creatures towards becoming endangered.
Of course, ethical concerns were not as influential as they are today, but the potential for the increased costs of sourcing ivory were enough to encourage New York-based manufacturers Phelan and Collender to offer a reward for a synthetic replacement.
American inventor John Wesley Hyatt had been experimenting with cellulose nitrate for many years, and eventually patented his method. He established the Albany Billiard Ball Company, which prospered in New York for a remarkable 118 years. Despite his notable success, he was never awarded the $10,000 prize.