William Joseph Mosconi (June 27, 1913 – September 17, 1993), generally known as Willie Mosconi, was an American professional pool (pocket billiards) player from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Willie’s father Joseph Mosconi owned a pool hall that the family lived above. Joseph Mosconi was strongly opposed to Willie playing pocket billiards, preferring he become a Vaudeville performer. He tried to keep his young son away from the game by hiding the billiard balls, but Willie improvised by practising with small potatoes from his mother’s kitchen and an old broomstick.
The young Mosconi was a prodigy and his father soon realized that his son’s talent could help earn money for their growing family. His father began advertising challenge matches, and though Willie had to stand on a box in order to reach the table, he beat experienced players many years his senior.
In 1919, an exhibition match was arranged between six-year old Willie and the reigning World Champion, Ralph Greenleaf . The hall was packed, and though Greenleaf won that match, Willie played very well enough to draw considerable attention and launch his professional career.
In 1924, at the tender age of eleven, Willie was the juvenile straight pool champion and was regularly holding trick shot exhibitions.
Between the years of 1941 and 1957, he won the World Straight Pool Championship an unmatched fifteen times. For most of the 20th century, his name was essentially synonymous with pool in North America – he was nicknamed “Mr. Pocket Billiards” and he was among the first Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductees. Mosconi pioneered and regularly employed numerous trick shots, set many records, and helped to popularize pool as a national recreation activity.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the pocket billiards game most often played in competition was called straight pool, or 14.1 continuous, a form of pool considered by most top players to be more difficult than today’s fast tournament game nine-ball. Mosconi still holds the officially recognized straight pool high run world record of 526 consecutive balls.
Shortly before winning his first World Straight Pool Championship in 1941, Mosconi married Ann Harrison, his first wife. Shortly thereafter the first of his three children was born, William, Jr., who attended St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and graduated with the class of 1959. Willie’s and Ann’s daughter, Candace, followed soon after William, Jr. The marriage ended in divorce.
Mosconi married his second wife, Flora Marchini, in 1953. Their daughter Gloria was born in 1954. Flora remained married to Willie until his death in 1993.
- Mosconi authored an autobiography titled Willie’s Game, published in 1993.
- He and a ghost writer authored an instructional book on pocket billiards entitled Willie Mosconi on Pocket Billiards.
- Mosconi set the world record by running 526 consecutive balls without a miss during a straight pool exhibition in Springfield, Ohio on March 19-20, 1954.
- Mosconi was the technical advisor on the 1961 film The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie. The movie played a major part in the boom in the popularity of pool.
- In 1968, at the age of 55, Willie Mosconi was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.
- In 1994, the Mosconi Cup, an annual pool competition between American and European players, was founded in Willie’s honor. The event has been held in December of every year since then and is more popular than ever, especially in Europe.
- In 2006, Mosconi was posthumously honored with membership in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
Willie Mosconi died of a heart attack on September 17, 1993 at his home in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. He is interred at New Saint Marys Cemetery, in Bellmawr, New Jersey.