PINBALL LITERATURE (PART 2)
By Russ Jensen
Awhile back I presented an article titled "Pinball Literature", which described several magazine articles with both "pro" and "anti" pinball sentiments. At that time I promised at a later date to describe some more articles on pinball, with more of a "neutral" or "historical" theme, and also to briefly describe the pinball related books which began coming out in the mid to late 1970's. Well, here are the rest of the article descriptions, but I have decided to postpone the books until an even later article in which I will deal with them in more detail than I originally planned.
The first article I will describe this time appeared (in two parts) in the entertainment trade periodical BILLBOARD on May 29 and June 5, 1943. It was titled "A History of Pinball", and was written by veteran Billboard coin machine columnist Walter W. Hurd.
An "Editorial Note", at the start of the article, stated that it was written in response to newspaper requests for "a story of pinball". It said that the article had been used by the New York Times and other papers as a basis for articles on pinball. This is an interesting statement, as much of the information presented in the 1941 New York Times Magazine article "Nickel Monte Carlo" (which I described in my previous article) seemed to have come from this article, leading me to believe that this article was actually written several years earlier, and may have been "reprinted" in BILLBOARD at this time.
Because many of the details presented in this article were contained in the articles I reported on last time, I will try not to repeat too much of the information previously presented, at least as far as possible.
An "introduction" to the article stated "pinball is a modern game developed from an ancient idea known for many years as bagatelle. The word pinball was probably first coined by a Kentucky circuit court and used in Kentucky newspapers; it was first used in an unabridged dictionary in 1940. How ideas for new games are born is a story of intense human interest. The pinball industry grew to world-wide proportions, until the outbreak of war in 1939. It is now an accepted national pastime."
The article then began by saying that a "national marbles champion" is selected each year, keeping that ancient child's game alive in America. For the adult generation the idea of marbles was said to be kept alive in the commercial adaptation of old "bagatelle" games, the pingame.
The first commercial advertisement for a pinball game was said to have come out in 1931, beginning a "depression industry". The reason for the rise of this new business was chiefly because when thousands of small establishments found their earnings cut severely by the Depression, the new pinball games provided a means of sorely needed added income.
Under the heading "Background in Bagatelle" it was said that pinball had as its ancestor the game of Bagatelle, it being stated that that game has been said to antedate bowling, billiards, and marbles by many centuries, possibly originating with ancient soothsayers rolling stones up hillsides. Bagatelle was said to have been significantly developed during the height of the Greek Civilization, almost passing out of existence during the Dark Ages, and later flourishing as the "favorite sport" in the palace of King Louis XIV of France.
Under the heading "The Missing Link" the development of the first commercial pingames was discussed, it being stated that both Chicago and Youngstown Ohio have claimed to be "the birthplace of pinball". The story was told of a Swedish janitor in Chicago showing a bagatelle board he had made to a manufacturer of novelties in his building who decided to built and sell them for home use, a coin mechanism being added later.
It was said that two major types of coin-operated games were in existence a few years before the beginning of the popularity of pingames. One type was coin-operated miniature pool tables which were developed in Texas following a ban on pool halls in that state. The other was a series of upright coin-op games designed to simulate sports, such as baseball, football, golf, etc.
It was pointed out that both of these types of games had certain disadvantages which were overcome in the early pingames. The pool tables had their balls and cues "in the open" and subject to theft. The sports games had massive cabinets and were difficult to transport, or even move around in a location. Both of these types of coin-op games, however, amply demonstrated that coin-operated amusement games had strong appeal to adult players, and could be a financial success for both the operators and the establishments in which they were placed.
The commercial operation of pingames was said to have introduced some new words into the "retail language" of the country. The "operator" was the term given to the person who buys the games, places them in the establishments (called "locations") where they are operated, and provides all necessary service. It was pointed out that the location owners did not have to invest anything, other than space, to have the games, yet their profit split with the operators proved profitable to them and hence they became strong advocates of the game business.
It was further pointed out that these games were for the small business what such things such as contests, "loss leaders", etc., were to large businesses; a way to attract customers, to give their place of business a pleasant atmosphere, and help pay the rent.
The rapid rise in the popularity of pingames was said to have created a new manufacturing industry beginning in 1931 and 1932, many of the small games being made in small shops. At one time it was said there were about 80 small factories in Chicago making pingames, plus several in Youngstown Ohio, and later some smaller firms started manufacturing on the West Coast.
Even though the early pins were quite simple, compared to later electrical models, it was pointed out that much "inventive talent" was required to solve mechanical problems involved in constructing the games. The people hired to solve these problems were either free-lance inventors or unemployed engineers, the new industry giving them a break during the Depression when jobs in other industries were scarce.
These people, it was said, brought to the industry many diverse ideas and were responsible for a myriad of new game designs. These new games were said to satisfy the public's demand for "a continuous succession of new and novel ideas in pinball games". It was also pointed out that the average life of most pinball games was approximately 90 days.
The large number of different game designs which came out during the Thirties and early Forties was then mentioned, it being said that it was not possible to estimate how many there were. It was then pointed out that every design required the work of an artist; a young artist in Chicago being quoted as saying he had done some 5000 designs in ten years.
The first pingames were quite simple and later games were said in many cases to be improvements of older designs. Game designs were said to often try to reproduce the major sports as realistically as possible. Other themes such as card games, "numbers", and other common pastimes, however, also inspired new games.
To illustrate the wide variety of game themes, a list of games made during the previous ten years whose names started with the letter "A" was given, including such names as : ACE, ACROSS THE BOARD, ACTION, AIR DERBY, AIRLANE, ALI-BABA, ALPS, ARCHER, AVALON, etc.
As examples of early "pioneer" pingames three games were mentioned. The two early games WHOOPEE and BINGO were said to both be simple in construction, but different in size. WHOOPEE was large, more like a pool table, while BINGO was small enough to sit on a counter; that size becoming the most popular for early pins.
Another very popular early pingame, BALLYHOO, was then mentioned. It was said that one reason that game was such a success was that it was mechanically simple, and hence reliable. Its success was also partially attributed to the manufacturer's "aggressive manufacturing and sales policies". At any rate, BALLYHOO was said to have "started the pinball industry on a national scope".
The "International market" for pingames was next mentioned. It was said that Rockola's 1933 hit JIGSAW (which capitalized on the jigsaw puzzle craze of the period) not only "swept practically every other game off the domestic market", but also opened up sales of American pingames to foreign countries, especially England and France. This International pingame market was said to increase rapidly and spread to many countries all over the world up until the start of hostilities in Europe which had a devastating effect on these exports.
Just before the war in Europe started, France was said to have been getting ready to license pingames and permit the use of merchandise prizes, as long as the prizes were French made. Also it was said that "sportlands" (amusement arcades featuring pingames) were quite popular in England before the war, even more so than in this country.
The use of electricity in pinballs was next discussed, the first electrical game being CONTACT, invented in California (by Harry Williams) and manufactured in Chicago. One of the things the use of electricity was said to have made possible in pingames was lighted backboards with the capability of totaling and displaying the player's scores, which by the end of the 1930's reached up into the tens of thousands of points.
Two inventions were then described which were said to have "brought pinball into its full-grown modern period". One of these was the "bumper", introduced on a Bally game of the same name, which used springs to cause the balls to make practically unlimited zig-zag motions on the field, and also operated electrical switches to cause scoring. The other was the "free-play" mechanism, which allowed players to play additional games if they exceeded certain scores during a game.
The "employment value" of the pinball industry was next discussed. It was pointed out that not only did the game manufacturers employ a large number of people in their factories, but they utilized parts and materials made in other plants and industries. It was said that the dozen or so pinball plants bought products made by some 50 to 80 other businesses, and thus contributed to them employing people as well.
The 1939 Federal Census of Manufacturers was said to have reported that amusement devices (mostly pinballs) made during that year had a total factory value of over 12 million dollars. The same census reported that approximately 110,000 games were made during that year, and it was estimated that between 200 and 250 thousand pinball games were in operation at the time.
The "system of distribution" of pinball games was then described. It was estimated that there were 300 to 400 "distributors" who bought new games from the manufacturers and sold them to "operators" who put them on location. It was also estimated that there were 8 to 10 thousand operators.
It was also pointed out that operators often traded-in used games when they bought new ones from the distributors, usually on credit. These used games were said to be purchased by other operators for use in small towns, etc., and were again used for a period of time. It was also mentioned that new games were usually placed in the best money-making locations first, later being transferred to lesser locations, and finally being traded-in.
The subject of earnings from pingames, and common misunderstandings about them, was next discussed. In the early Thirties it was said a penny was the standard price to play pinball, this later being raised to a nickel. The reason given for this was to discourage minors from playing the games.
Considerable publicity regarding "extravagant earnings" from pinball games was said to have arisen from reporting on the earnings from a few "select locations" which had large profits from games. But the average operator was said to only have 10 percent or less of his locations which fit that category, most "making only fair earnings, considering the investment, fast depreciation, and constant changes of games which must be made to keep earnings up".
It was then pointed out that if pingames made such fabulous earnings most operators would be rich. It was said that most of them, however, are average family men whose small businesses keep them and their families going, maybe employing two or three others.
It was further pointed out that most people don't realize that half of the gross earnings from pingames go to the location owner, and are a "big factor in maintaining the small retail stores in the American system".
It was then said that pinball games have become a very popular form of amusement in this country, tourists looking for them wherever they go. Prominent people were also said to have become pinball fans, this often being reported in the press, adding to the national popularity of the games. It was also pointed out that pingames have been used in many motion pictures as "part of the American scene in nearly all pictures of small establishments".
Finally, the intervention of World War II into the pinball business was discussed. It was noted that the wartime ban on pingame production, which became effective May 1, 1942, effectively ended the first decade of pinball popularity. Even before that official ban took effect, however, shortages in materials due to war production had began to affect the industry. It was also pointed out that most of the game manufacturers began converting their plants for war production, but some of the small plants found that more difficult.
During the war the number of games in operation was said to have decreased. But, it was predicted that as soon as the war is over "all members of the industry, from the manufacturers to the smallest operator, should expect a grand rush to adopt business to a new era of peace and prosperity".
The second article I will describe appeared in the publication "The Annals of the American Association of Social and Political Sciences" in May 1950, and was titled "Slot Machines and Pinball Games". The authors were listed as "anonymous", a footnote stating that the writers were, at the time the article was published, "connected with an investigation of slot machine operations".
A good portion of the article dealt with the slot machine business, and presented it in a very "negative" light. The section on pinball, however, was quite the opposite (except when it came to "one-ball" games) and might even be said to describe pinballs as more "lily white" than they actually were, as far as their use for gambling was concerned. (For a detailed look into the gambling uses of pingames over the years, I refer you to my article "Pingames and Gambling" which appeared in the SUMMER 1987 issue of COIN SLOT.)
The section on slots covered such topics as: History, Evasion of the Law, The Structure of the Industry, Public Apathy and Official Corruption, The Movement Toward Suppression, and The Question of Licensing. For those of you interested in slot machine history, that part of the article should prove interesting.
The section of the article devoted to pinball began with the following: "Some consider the 'pinball game' to be a gambling device and part of the slot machine racket. However, the pinball business is today part of the coin-operated amusement industry."
A section on pinball history stated that the first pinball was manufactured in Youngstown, Ohio in 1929, and was described as "a simple, mechanical, bagatelle game, bearing no resemblance to the modern version". It was further stated that these early games had no gambling features.
The year 1931 was said to be the beginning of pingame manufacturing in Chicago, that city being where most of the later games were made. By 1933, it was said, electricity had been added, making possible lights and sounds on games.
In 1934 the first "payout pinballs" were manufactured, which were said to be prohibited in most cities. Some of these games gave out "tokens" or "tickets", instead of coins, but it was said that that "subterfuge" did not work.
The article then went on to say that by 1937 or 1938 the gambling features were eliminated in favor of "free games". The older "free play" games, however, were said to have "meters" which permitted the location to pay off on replays.
After World War II, the article went on, the pinball manufacturers decided that the game's primary appeal was "as an amusement device", and that 90 percent of them were operated that way at the time. Further, the manufacturers were said to have felt that in locations where pins were used for petty gambling the industry was "doomed". For this reason "meters" were eventually removed from all amusement pinballs.
The only "gambling type" pingames at that time, the so-called "One-ball Games", were next discussed. The article said that after the war a slot machine manufacturer had his designers come up with a game which resembled a pingame, had the earning power of a slot, but would be acceptable as a "pinball" under the law. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: This type of game was actually developed in the mid to late 1930's.)
These machines, called "One-ball Games" by the trade, were said to have been produced in two models; one paying off directly in coins, and the other giving "replays", but having the infamous "meter", enabling them to be redeemed for cash. The price of these machines was around $700, as compared to approximately $225 for an "amusement pinball".
The industry put these games into the "console class", only referring to them as "pinballs" when a license was sought. These "one-balls", however, were said to be subsequently banned in most locations, being discovered by local authorities as being "disguised slot machines". The few areas where they were allowed to operate became known to the trade as "one-ball territories". These territories, however, were said to be shrinking, the Washington State Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Attorney General having both ruled "one-balls" illegal in 1949.
Under the heading "Amusement Machine Manufacturers Fight Gambling" it was first stated that the amusement pinball manufacturers realized that they could not compete with the high profit slots and "one-balls" ($400 per week for slots as compared to $15 per week for pins) in territories where the gambling machines were operated. It was also pointed out that the public often linked pinballs with gambling devices, many times resulting in restrictive legislation and high taxes being applied to pingames.
For those reasons, it was said, amusement machine manufacturers decided to "divorce themselves from the gambling part of the coin machine industry." They formed a trade association, The Coin Machine Institute, which embarked on an "anti slot machine and anti-gambling program".
NOTE: An interesting footnote to the article stated: "The Federation of Tax Administrators, an organization made up of the revenue commissioners of the forty-eight states, in its Research Report 24, entitled "State Taxes on Gambling", published February 15, 1949, states that pinball machines and other types of games are designed for diversion only and 'comprise essentially a reputable branch of the amusement industry.'")
It was stated that since these attacks on gambling machines by the amusement machine manufacturers came from "within the coin machine industry" it "placed an authoritative and compelling weapon in the hands of public officials and others interested in suppressing slot machines". This resulted in the gambling machine manufacturers forming their own trade association, the American Coin Machine Manufacturer's Association.
A section titled "Depression in Pinball Industry" began by saying that immediately following World War II there was a large demand for new pinball machines, which was quickly satisfied. After that, the article went on, a "depression" struck the industry which was said to have forced five pinball manufacturers to desert pins in favor of other amusement devices.
That depression also resulted in the loss of some foreign markets. It was also pointed out that the operator could not raise the price of 5 cents per game, since "the nickel is still the heart of the pinball industry".
The article ended with a brief discussion of possible "Federal action" against gambling machines. The Federal Government was said to have levied a $100 tax on slot machines, but had not yet taken any other action toward suppressing them. However, it was said, there was a move afoot in Congress to prohibit interstate shipment of slot machines. This probably referred to the Federal law, passed shortly after this article was published, which became known as "The Johnson Act".
The next article I will describe is probably the most "entertaining" of the lot, probably because it deals with the real-life exploits of a very fascinating individual, pinball pioneer Harry E. Williams. The article titled "Ungunchable Harry, King of the Pins", was written by J. P. Cahn and appeared in the August 1960 Issue of the popular men's magazine TRUE.
The article began on a comical note with the statement: "With the possible exception of women, the modern pinball game is unquestionably the most complex snare ever devised to induce a man to part with his loose change in return for a little light relaxing entertainment".
The pinball machine was described as "something that looks like a cross between a Minsky marquee and Univac". The author then said that behind many of these games is a soft-spoken man in his early fifties; Harry Williams, regarded as "the Thomas Edison of pinball". He went on to say that many features of the pinball game came from Harry's inventive mind, including the infamous "Tilt" mechanism.
Mr. Williams was then described as a "two Thunderbird man", who also flies his own plane between his California home and Chicago. It was said that it is hard to imagine that early in his life he was "scuffling around with no idea where his lunch money was coming from".
In the late 1920's Harry had gone to Hollywood to produce "quickie" advertising films. Then when the Stock Market crash occurred, this 23 year old man, with a new wife to support, was all of a sudden out looking for work.
Young Harry at that time was said to have answered an ad in the paper and saw his first coin-operated game, a little game called JAI-ALAI in which the player tried to flip a cork ball into a basket. When the salesman convinced Harry that "the game did all the work, all you have to do is collect the money", he bought five at $100 each, using up all the "capital" he had.
When he tried to put his games "on location" he discovered that the store owners wanted 50 percent of the take. He put one in a soda fountain, but three days later he found it only contained seven coins and a "slug". The income from these games barely kept him going. Later he bought 10 baseball type games on credit.
The first pingame Harry ever saw was said to be the WHIFFLE game made in Youngstown Ohio. It was on location in a lunchroom near Universal Studios in Hollywood, and people were standing in line to play it. Harry was very impressed by this and by how well the machine was constructed, but he had no money to buy any.
After that Harry tried his hand at making his own pingames; making games one at a time and putting them on location; but none of them seemed to "click".
The author then told of Harry telling him how he got his "big idea" for a new type of pingame. Harry said in those days he sketched all his design ideas on a big green pad he always carried with him. He said he decided that the balls must have more "action" and the idea came to him to use "electro-magnets" to provide it.
At first he wondered where he could obtain these devices, but he quickly realized that the shop next door to his had them in stock. He decided to call his new game CONTACT. His game sat on its own legs, rather than on the counter as most pingames did in those days. His first test location for CONTACT was said to be a drug store in Hollywood.
Harry then teamed up with carburetor manufacturer, turned coin machine entrepreneur, Fred McClellen for the manufacture of CONTACT. The story was told of Harry and Fred watching players when they first played the game, the players being amazed by its new form of action. This attracted other players, and soon the cashbox was overflowing.
Fred had bought the manufacturing rights from Harry, paying him a royalty for each game. He set up a shop on Pico St. in Los Angeles, which even today is still "coin machine row". At first he produced about 10 games per day which sold for $75 each. After a short time an electric bell was added to CONTACT, which increased player interest and hence sales of the game.
In the Spring of 1934 it was said that Harry and Fred took CONTACT to the coin machine trade show in Chicago. The action and bells on the game took the show by storm and they received more orders than they could fill. The game was said to be so revolutionary that it "sounded the death knell for the current mechanical pingames". Ray Moloney of Bally made a good offer for him to start manufacturing the game, but that later fell through. Instead Fred set up a plant in Chicago, producing some 23,000 CONTACTs altogether.
With regard to Harry's most famous pinball invention, the "tilt", the author began by stating: "If the pinball game has contributed nothing else to American culture, it unquestionably must be credited with a dance form that lies somewhere between Martha Graham and professional wrestling. It is called, in the trade, 'gunching' and consists of a series of nudges on the side of the cabinet."
The story of how Harry came up with the idea for "tilt" was then told. Harry was in a Los Angeles "smoke shop" one day watching a big guy "gunching" a pingame; even lifting the front of the machine. The next day Harry came in with a modified game which he thought would solve the problem; he had pounded nails through the bottom of the cabinet. When a player tried to lift the game and was hurt by the nails, he then lifted the machine by grabbing its legs. Harry next tried sand as "ballast", but the store owner didn't like that because he couldn't move it.
Finally Harry came up with what he called the "stool pigeon", which used a small ball resting on a pedestal, rolling off if the player "gunched" too hard. This seemed to work fine, but Harry was not satisfied with the name he had given it. The story was then told of Harry watching two players playing a game with "stool pigeon", and when one got to gunching a little too hard his friend hollered "Watch Out!, you'll tilt the damned thing". That was said to be how Harry decided to change the name of his invention to simply the "tilt".
The beginning of the electric tilt mechanism, also initiated by Harry, was next described. It was said to have been first used on Bally's MULTIPLE in 1936 and to consist of a length of metal "pull chain" suspended in a piece of metal tubing. When the game was moved too much the chain would make contact with the tubing providing an electrical circuit to activate a "tilt sign"; the same general principle which is still in use today. After that, the electric tilt became standard equipment on all pingames. This was said to have turned "gunching" into a "subtle art".
The article then went on to tell of the beginning of "free play" pinball. In the mid Thirties the manufacturers started putting out pingames which paid off directly in coins in a manner similar to slot machines. This caused these games to become illegal in many localities, the industry becoming aware that they would have to do something about this problem.
Harry was said to have had a young janitor working for him named Bill Bellah who always wanted to invent something. One day Harry said to him, "OK Bill, invent a game that will pay out nothing but amusement". Bill returned six weeks later with a "contraption" and said, "Mr. Williams, build me a machine to go with this".
What Bill had devised was a device which allowed the coin chute to be pushed in without inserting a coin if a certain score had been achieved on the game. Harry was said to have immediately realized that this idea could be adapted to any pingame and was exactly what the industry was looking for; a way to allow pingames to pay off in perfectly legal "free games" instead of cash. Harry paid Bill a sum of cash, plus 50 percent of the royalties, for the manufacturing rights to his invention.
By 1935, it was said, Harry Williams was much in demand as a pinball designer. He was offered a job in Chicago with Rockola as their "chief inventor" for pingames. He left his father in charge of his company in Los Angeles and moved to Chicago.
Shortly after he started at Rockola he met a young designer there named Lyndon Durant who showed him a design for a new score totalizer which was quite inventive. Lyn was full of good ideas it seemed.
The article went on to say that in less than a year after going to Chicago Harry closed his Los Angeles plant, left Rockola, and went to work for Bally where he again found Lyn Durant working. After about 6 months at Bally he and Lyn both went to work for Exhibit Supply, where they became a "team".
It was then said that when World War II started Harry and Lyn both left Exhibit and formed there own company, which they called United Manufacturing, with the idea of repairing and refurbishing old pingames, and to try to get "war contracts". Shortly they acquired many old games to work on but found they could not get any needed parts or materials, including solder.
The story was told of how they were sitting around one day trying to figure out what to do when all of a sudden they realized that the needed materials were in the games. They set to work dismantling some of them, using a "drop cloth" to catch the solder for reuse. A little while later they got a Government contract to produce electrical cables.
In June 1942 Harry was said to have sold his share of United to Lyn, started his own Williams Manufacturing Co., and secured his own "war contract" to make radar "sweep units".
In less than 10 years Harry decided he wanted to move back to California, which he did, trying for the next 8 years to come up with game ideas from there. It was said that he came up with one novel idea around 1956. After seeing a movie which showed a puppet show, Harry got the idea of making a coin-operated puppet and designed PEPPY THE CLOWN. That did OK but he was still not satisfied and later came up with a toy train set which was also coin operated.
The article ended by saying: "Trains and singing puppets are a far cry from Contact's clattering solenoids. But as a lot of top pin men in Chicago will tell you, it looks as if Harry Williams, the old maestro, has got the feel of the track again and is off and running true to form."
The final article I will describe is probably the easiest to find because it appeared in the December 1972 issue of PLAYBOY. The article was written by Michael Laurence and titled "Great Moments in Pinball History". I must say, however, that it contained several historical inaccuracies, which I will try to point out as I come to them, so as not to convey any false historical information.
The very colorful two page "title page" tried to convey the history of pinball pictorially, with a date and a short caption next to each illustration. Dated 1862 was a real political cartoon showing none other than Abraham Lincoln playing pinball's ancestor, the game of Bagatelle.
For 1930, Gottlieb's first pingame, BAFFLE BALL, was illustrated. For 1933 a lighting bolt and a ball were shown to signify the first use of electricity in pinball.
The year 1935 had two illustrations. The first was a depiction of a pinball game with illustrations of the various forms of "electric tilt" devices. The other was a "pop bumper" assembly, illustrating the use of "action" components on playfields (although the "pop bumper" itself did not appear until much later).
Dated 1937 was an illustration of a "free game" indicating window, representing the beginning of "free games" in pinball around that time. The year 1947 was of course illustrated by a flipper mechanism, the first flipper game having come out that year.
Finally, next to the date 1973 was a picture of Allied Leisure's SEA HUNT, an "upright game" which was said to possibly be "tomorrow's pinball".
The article itself began by saying: "Despite all the blather about airplanes and racing cars, the ultimate commingling of man and machine still takes place at the silk smooth flipper buttons of a well tuned pinball machine. No other human endeavor so involves skills of mind and body with the challenging intricacies of a mechanical toy. Nowhere else are the rewards as rich, or the sorrows as devastating."
Playing pinball was then compared to making love (after all this was PLAYBOY!). The game was then said to predate airplanes, automobiles, etc., its ancestor being the "bagatelle board" which was described as "a billiard-like gaming device whose origins are lost in antiquity".
The first literary reference to bagatelle, it was pointed out, was in Charles Dickens' "Pickwick Papers" which told of a bagatelle table being located in the Pickwick Tavern. Up until the Depression, the author went on, the game of bagatelle remained "an obscure parlor game".
The first mass-marketed bagatelle board was said to be David Gottlieb's BAFFLE BALL in 1930, which "took America by storm". Within less than a year after its introduction over 50,000 were sold at $17.50 each; its popularity caused by the fact that "depression haggard Americans were all too happy to purchase the ephemeral escape of seven clinking ball bearings for just one cent". Today the game was said to be a "cherished collector's item".
Gottlieb's competition was described as being a game called BALLYHOO, designed by Chicago businessman Ray Moloney; although at first he had Gottlieb make his games for him. He then started his own company, Bally Manufacturing; Bally and Gottlieb being said to still be "giants in the industry".
The economic success of the pinball business in the Thirties was then discussed, it being likened to the success of "fast food franchises" in the Sixties. Coin operated devices in use before the introduction of pinball (music machines, movie machines, venders, etc.) were said to lack any sort of "skill factor". Pinball, on the other hand, required skill on the part of the player and provided him with "psychological rewards" for his prowess.
The games also provided monetary rewards for the operators and location owners, it being said that an operator could buy a pingame for around $20 and have it pay for itself in about a week. By late in 1932 it was said many in the business thought that the market for pingames was "saturated" and that the whole thing might end, it even being rumored that Dave Gottlieb felt that way and that's why he named a game FIVE STAR FINAL.
The next year, however, brought the introduction of electricity to pinball, resulting in "a whole new dimension in play". Bally's 1935 game FLEET was described as being the first use of solenoids on a playfield. (AUTHOR'S NOTE - This is not too accurate as very early in 1934 Harry Williams, as you should remember, introduced solenoids to pinball on CONTACT.) Anyway, the addition of solenoid power to pinball added "action" to the playfield.
The article went on to say that other innovations shortly followed, listing such things as: the electric tilt, automatic scoring, free games, thumper bumpers (they came later, but the author could have been referring to the non-powered bumper introduced in 1936), and rollovers.
The invention of the flipper in 1947 by Gottlieb designer Harry Mabs was next referred to. This revolutionary device was first used on Gottlieb's HUMPTY DUMPTY late that year, a game which was said to have become a "collector's item".
This device was described as being "so fundamental to pinball that not one machine (excluding "bingo pinballs") have been made without it" since its inception. In France, and much of Europe, pingames were said to be referred to as "Les Flippers".
The article then went on to list other innovations in pinball since the flipper. These included: asymmetrical playfields, reel scoring, multi-player games, "captive" and "messenger" balls, and "extra balls". These were described as being only "refinements" and not "breakthroughs", it being said that no new technological breakthroughs in pinball design have occurred since the invention of the flipper; only "gradual refinements to existing technology".
The last part of the article dealt with the use of pinballs in the home. The first comment made was that "the absence of recent innovations makes flipper machines especially attractive toys for individuals who want to buy one for their own apartment or game room". The author then remarked that home games should be set for non-coin operation, since to use coins could make them in violation of the law in some localities.
Buying home games was said to be fairly easy; more and more people doing it than ever before. The process of buying a pingame was then likened to that of buying an automobile, with pinball having its own "big three": Bally, Gottlieb, and Williams.
It was next pointed out that, just as with automobiles, you can't buy a pinball machine direct from the manufacturer, but must go to a distributor who buys from the manufacturer and sells or leases games to operators. Distributors have various late models in stock (also used games taken in for trade-ins) which they will generally sell to individuals for home use.
Choosing a home pinball was said to be something like choosing an automobile. For instance, the choice of the color of the game's artwork should be selected to match the decor of your home.
Some differences in the products of the "big three" were next mentioned. Williams was said to make challenging single player games. Gottlieb games, it was then remarked, seemed to be preferred by many operators because then tended to make more money on location. Bally games were then said to be preferred by "serious pinballers" due to their complex playfields and huge scoring possibilities.
Four-player machines were recommended by the author for home use, being said to be "the top of the manufacturer's 'flipper line'". He then remarked that "a single four-player machine can transform a dull party into a memorable all-nighter".
Competition on a multi-player machine, it was said, tends to bring out skillful playing on the part of many, their best scores being brought out "under pressure". Single player machines, on the other hand, are best for those individuals "who best excel in competition with themselves".
It was then stated that the four-player games of a manufacturer "tend to spawn two-player and single-player versions of the game". (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I tend to believe that it is just the opposite, the single-player versions coming first)
Regarding buying from a distributor, it was first pointed out that they are occasionally reluctant to sell to individuals. The prices of new games were then said to be around $900 for a four-player, $725 for a two-player, and $650 for single-players; with good used machines selling for between $150 and $300.
The problem of service for home games, which the author called "a minor headache", was next discussed. The games were said to be well made, but that occasional problems do arise. It was estimated that about 90 percent of the problems which most often occur could be fixed by the owner; such things as lubrication of moving parts, replacement of burned out light bulbs and fuses, and adjusting contact points.
More severe problems, such as burned out coils and broken wires (really?) were said to probably require a "house call". It was then recommended that a person buy his game from a distributor who also provides service. If this is not possible, the author went on, then there is "free lance" service often available. It was then said that these people often charge high prices ($25 per hour, plus parts was mentioned) and that this was "steep, but worth it".
An "imperfect" pinball machine was described as being "as frustrating and dissonant as an untuned piano" and that "pinballing excellence demands perfection from the machine as well as the player".
The article ended by saying: "And in pursuit of the perfectly played game - a goal as illusory and compelling as the quest for the Holy Grail - no one should settle for less."
Included with the Playboy article was a two page "centerfold" depicting three typical pinball machines of the current time. These were Williams' single-player game SUPER STAR, Gottlieb's two-player KING KOOL, and Bally's four-player, the now "classic" FIREBALL.
Many people today think that this exposure in Playboy might have had a lot to do with FIREBALL's continued popularity and high price; they may be right. In the caption accompanying these pictures, it was said of that game: "Bally's summately subtle FIREBALL is possibly the finest flipper machine ever produced". No such glowing statements, however, were made about the other two games.
Above the pictures of each game's playfield and backglass was a close-up of the most interesting area of each playfield. Again, the accompanying description of FIREBALL's features (spinner, "messenger balls", etc.) received far more attention than the features on the other two games.
So, who knows? Maybe it's Playboy exposure and praise was responsible for FIREBALL's long-running popularity, its price never going below its original selling price, and many times soaring above. How many 1972 pins can say that? Incidentally, the other two games shown there are hardly even remembered today.
That's it for the articles. At a later date I will present a description of the major pinball books which came out in the 1970's.
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