The History of Bowling
The idea of rolling an object to knock down other objects has been around, well, since about the beginning of civilization. An Egyptian tomb has been found with objects apparently meant for such entertainment, and some of the islanders in Polynesia have been doing something similar for centuries.
The modern version of bowling seems to most likely have arisen from Germany. Back around the 3rd century CE, peasants carried around a Kegel, a sort of club. It was used for protection, and became part of a religious ritual. The Kegel would be stood on end, then the person would roll a stone toward the club, which represented a heathen, to knock it down. Doing so meant the person was free of sin. Soon, they were rolling at the nine wooden clubs as a more secular game. Even today, sometimes in Germany, bowlers are referred to as "keglers".
As the sport spread out into other nearby countries such as Austria and Switzerland, it became a more and more common sight. Other versions also appeared - lawn bowling by the English, and Bocce by the Italians, though they didn't replace regular bowling. In 1366, King Edward III allegedly outlawed the game, as it was distracting the troops from archery practice. Edinburgh in Scotland had a very odd version - the bowler would take a ball without any holes, and launch it at the pins from between their legs, falling to the lane on their stomach in the process.
It started to be played indoors, in "Kegelbahns", and was common in inns and taverns. The first recorded indoor bowling "alley" was in London, in 1455. It moved into the New World, America, really quickly also. In New Amsterdam in 1650, it was a common recreational activity of the Dutch. Nine pins were arranged in a diamond, and a bowler had to roll a ball down a 90 foot long, one and a half foot wide "alley". The first permanent location in the US was probably in New York, for lawn bowling - the area that is known as Bowling Green.
In 1841, due to the frequent gambling associated with it, Connecticut banned nine-pin bowling. Some stories state that the tenth pin was added to get around this law, but there is little evidence suggesting this is true - in fact, a town in New York had already prohibited the ten-pin version. The pins used at this point were tall and slender, very much like the modern candlepins used occasionally in the area to this day.
Around 1850, when bowling was getting quite popular in New York, a new shape of pin started appearing to make the game a little easier. Instead of the tall, skinny candlepins, a wider shape was used, essentially the same as the modern pin.
Even to this point, there was plenty of variety in the rules. In 1875, a few groups in New York decided to try and standardize rules and equipment, along with eliminating the gambling to try and bring more respectability to the sport. The National Bowling Association (NBA) was created, with just a few clubs making up the membership. It didn't last, but many of the rules they decided on remain to this day. Another group, the American Amateur Bowling Union was founded in 1890, but also didn't really last.
During this time, German immigrants had been pouring into other cities in the United States, such as Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, and bowling was growing in those areas as well. Finally, with the continued spread, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was formed. On September 9, 1895, in Beethoven Hall in New York City, the ABC came into existence.
1901 saw their first National bowling championship, in Chicago, IL. 41 teams participated in the team event, along with 155 singles, and 78 doubles competitors. With regional and national tournaments, and sanctioned leagues, all awarding prize money, gambling virtually disappeared.
In 1909, the first country outside of America adopted tenpin bowling - Sweden. From there, the sport began to spread through the rest of Europe, as countries rediscovered it with the rules changes.
Men weren't the only ones enjoying the sport. Plenty of women bowled, with the numbers growing. Finally, in 1916, the Women's National Bowling Association was formed. A year later, they changed their name to the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC), and they are also still around and going strong.
In 1926, the International Bowling Association was formed to standardize the game throughout the world, and arrange international events. Groups from Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States were all involved in the association's creation. That year, the first internation tournament was held, in Sweden.
In the late 1940's, one of the biggest advances to the game came around. The first automatic pinsetters were developed by Gottfried Schmidt, who sold the invention to American Machinery and Foundry Corporation - AMF. No longer did pinboys have to set up all the pins by hand - machines could do it faster, cheaper, and more accurately. It helped fuel the development of the sport. In 1951, the first commercial installation was made in Michigan.
Up to this time, there were really no "professional" bowlers. However, 1958 changed all that, with the creation of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA). It was created to emulate the PGA, and set up a tour of sponsored tournaments, with requirements for people to get involved in them, and large monetary prizes for the top finishers. Only three or four events were on the tour at first, but thanks to television, the number blossomed in the 1960's.
1960 saw a women's professional organization appear, the Professional Women's Bowling Association. In 1974, due to the lack of success of this organization, the Ladies' Professional Bowling Association was created from a group of players leaving the PWBA. In 1978, their differences were reconciled, and they merged again, first as the Women's Professional Bowling Association, then in 1981, renamed to the Ladies's Professional Bowlers Tour.
In 1988, bowling appeared as an exhibition sport at the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
HickokSports.com - History - Bowling, http://www.hickoksports.com/history/bowling.shtml
History of Bowling, http://www.bowl-nj.com/history.htm
IBMHF - The History of Bowling, http://www.bowlingmuseum.com/history.html
Corrections to bigmouth_strikes' writeup. A set of 10 frames is known as a game. A series is usually a set of three games. In competition, this is by far the most common method of scoring.