Like many other sports, Table Tennis began as a mild social diversion. It was probably played with improvised equipment in England, during the last quarter of the 19th century. Though Table Tennis evolved, along with Badminton and Lawn Tennis, from the ancient game of Tennis (also known as Jeu de Paume, Real tennis, Court Tennis or Royal Tennis), the game was developed after Lawn Tennis became popular in the 1880s.
Game manufacturers tried many experiments to market an indoor version of Lawn Tennis, including board and dice games, Tiddledy Winks variations, card games, racket and balloon games and others. New research by Steve Grant (Ping Pong Fever, 2012, USA) reveals that James Devonshire (ENG) invented Table Tennis, so stated by John Jaques III in a 1901 interview published in The Echo. Subsequently Alan Duke (ENG) found in The Official Journal of the Patent Office that:
Devonshire applied for a Patent on October 9, 1885 for his "Table Tennis", the first known use of that name
The Nov. 24, 1885 issue of the Journal shows Provisional Specifications were accepted
In January 1887 the Application is listed as Abandoned.
One quite feasible scenario is that Jaques paid Devonshire for his idea, ultimately becoming the basis for Jaques ' Gossima, released in 1891. However, the lengthy time factor is a concern, as mentioned by renowned Jaques authority Michael Thomson (SCO). So one mystery solved begets another mystery!
The 1887 catalog of George S. Parker (USA) includes an entry for "Table Tennis: This game is laid out like a Lawn Tennis court, played and counted just the same, all the rules being observed." However, this was a board and dice game by J.H. Singer (NY), whose name also appears on the catalog.
The earliest surviving action game of Tennis on a table is a set made by David Foster, patented in England in 1890: Parlour Table Games, which included table versions of Lawn Tennis, Cricket and Football. This
References: http://www.ittf.com/museum/history.html http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall04/baksh/history.html http://www.olympic.org/table-tennis-equipment-and-history