The Invention of Pinball
Pinball is an arcade game where you score points by manipulating balls around on an inclined play field with flippers. The goal is to hit various targets without losing the ball through the drain at the bottom. Most modern pinball machines are themed—they tell a story and players complete objectives to finish the story. Pinball has been around for decades. But where did it come from?
Origins Date to 1871
In 871, the British inventor Montegue Redgrave received a patent for his game, “Improvements in Bagatelle”. Bagatelle was a game that used a table and balls, but Redgrave received the patent in order to make changes to the original game. He added a coiled spring, a plunger, inclined the playing field and made it smaller, and replaced the larger balls with marbles—all of which are features of pinball.
Mass Production 1930s
It wasn’t until the 1930s that pinball machines appeared in mass. In 1930 and 1931, these games were countertop machines, rather than freestanding with legs as we know them today. Manufacturers began adding legs in 1932.
The first countertop pinball machine was called “Bingo”, and was produced by the Bingo Novelty Company. This was the first pinball machine manufactured by D. Gottlieb & Company. Next, the company released “Baffle Ball”, another countertop mechanical game. In 1935, they released the same game in an electro-mechanical standing version. It even had a payout.
In 1931, another countertop pinball machine was released called “Bally Hoo”. It included optional legs and was the first coin-operated pinball machine in existence. It was developed by Raymond Maloney, the founder of Bally Corporation.
Origins of the Name
The game was not actually called “pinball” until 1936. The first pinball games did not have flippers, the balls were instead directed by static nails, or pins, which gave the game its name.
One of the most popular pinball machines in history is “Advance”. The tilt mechanism was invented in 1934 because players had been physically lifting the machines to shake the ball around. Tilt fixed this problem. The tilt mechanism was first used in “Advance” the pinball game made by Harry Williams.
In 1933, battery-operated pinball machines were introduced. They were first made by Harry Williams; by 1934, electric machines showed up which allowed them to offer plenty of extra features, like new sounds and lights. In 1937, the bumpers were added in a game simply called “Bumper” by Bally Hoo. Flippers were then added in 1947, in a game called “Humpty Dumpty”. Flippers were invented by Harry Mabs and incorporated into the D. Gottlieb & Company game. It used six flippers, three per side.
In the 1950s, pinball machines got flashier—they incorporated lights behind a glass scoreboard which helped highlight the scores and added two player options. In 1963, multiple balls were introduced; designed by Steve Kordek and first used in the game, “Beat the Clock”. He is also the one that moved the flippers to the bottom of the game.
Ever Changing Pinball
Pinball has continued to change with the times. Digital scoring was introduced in 1966, and 1975, the first solid-state electronic pinball machine was released. Later, in 1998, pinball machines incorporated video screens, and today, players can play pinball online.