The History of Pinball

A coin-operated arcade game

Multiple Pinball Targets
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Pinball is a coin-operated arcade game where players score points by shooting metal balls on an inclined playfield, hitting special targets, and avoiding losing their balls: throughout the 1970s 80s, high school and college students found coin-gobbling pinball machines in arcades and bars. But pinball history begins nearly 100 years earlier than that.

Montague Redgrave & Bagatelle

In 1871, British inventor, Montague Redgrave (1844–1934) was granted US Patent #115,357 for his "Improvements in Bagatelle."

Bagatelle was an older game that used a table and balls—rather like a miniature version of pool or billiards—and it was invented in late 18th century France. Redgrave's patented changes to the game of Bagatelle included adding a coiled spring and a plunger, making the game smaller, replacing the large bagatelle balls with marbles, and adding the inclined playfield. All of these were common features of the later game of pinball.

Pinball machines appeared in mass during the early 1930s as counter-top machines (without legs) and they featured the characteristics created by Montague Redgrave. In 1932, manufacturers began adding legs to their games.

First Pinball Games

"Bingo" made by the Bingo Novelty Company was a counter-top mechanical game released in 1931. It was also the first machine manufactured by D. Gottlieb & Company, who were contracted to produce the game.

"Baffle Ball" made by David Gottlieb & Company, was a counter-top mechanical game released in 1931. In 1935, Gottlieb released an electro-mechanical standing version of Baffle Ball with a payout.

"Bally Hoo" was a counter-top mechanical game with optional legs released in 1931. Bally Hoo was the first coin-operated pinball game and it was invented by the founder of the Bally Corporation, Raymond T. Maloney (1900–1958).

The term "pinball" itself as a name for the arcade game was not used until 1936.

Tilt!

The tilt mechanism was invented in 1934 as a direct answer to the problem of players physically lifting and shaking the games. The tilt debuted in a game called "Advance" made by Harry Williams.

The first battery operated machines appeared in 1933 and inventor Harry Williams made the first. By 1934, machines were redesigned to be used with electrical outlets allowing for new types of sounds, music, lights, lighted backglass, and other features.

The pinball bumper was invented in 1937. The bumper debuted in a game called Bumper made by Bally Hoo. Chicago game designers Harry Mabs (~1895–1960) and Wayne Neyens invented the flipper in 1947. The flipper made its debut in a pinball game called "Humpty Dumpty," made by D. Gottlieb & Company. "Humpty Dumpty" used six flippers, three on each side.

Mid-Century Innovations

Pinball machines during the early 50s began to use separate lights behind the glass scoreboard to show scores. The 50s also introduced the first two player games.

Pinball manufacturer Steve Kordek (1911–2012) invented the drop target in 1962, debuting in Vagabond, and multiballs in 1963, debuting in "Beat the Clock." He is also credited with repositioning the flippers to the bottom of the pinball playing field.

In 1966, the first digital scoring pinball machine, "Rally Girl" was released Rally. In 1975, the first solid-state electronic pinball machine, the "Spirit of 76," was released by Micro. In 1998, the first pinball machine with a video screen was released by Williams in their new "Pinball 2000" series machines.

In the 21st century, versions of pinball are now being sold that are completely software based and have been developed for platforms for computers, handhelds, and gaming devices.

Sources and Further Reading