What Is Pinball and Who Made the First Pinball Machine?
Pinball traces its roots to an old table-and-ball game called Bagatelle. British inventor Montegue Redgrave obtained a United States patent in 1871 for an updated version of the game he called “Improvements in Bagatelle.” Redgrave’s version was played on a smaller, inclined playfield with marbles. He also added a spring and plunger. All of these were features of what we know today as pinball.
The first modern pinball machines began appearing in the early 1930s. They started as countertop machines without legs and slowly evolved into the larger machines we’re familiar with today. The first three pinball games were called Bingo, Baffle Ball, and Bally Hoo. Bally Hoo was the first coin-operated pinball machine. The name “pinball” wasn’t used until 1936, though.
Bumpers were added to pinball machines in 1937. Flippers, however, didn’t appear until 1947. The addition of flippers to pinball machines was an important milestone, because they changed the nature of the game from one of chance to one of skill.
As popular as pinball machines remain today, some of our Wonder Friends might be surprised to learn that they were viewed as a danger to society long ago. In fact, from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, pinball was banned in most major American cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Why pinball was considered dangerous? In its earliest forms, pinball was more of a game of chance than skill, so many people bet on the games. Many people thought pinball encouraged gambling. They also believed pinball enticed children to waste time and money. Some legislators were also concerned about possible mafia connections to pinball.
Over time, pinball clearly became a game of skill rather than chance, and legislators eventually ended pinball bans across the country. The game remains popular today, although only one company — Stern Pinball — still makes pinball machines today.