THE FIRST PINBALL BOOK?
THE HAWKINS THESIS
By Russ Jensen
In the last issue of Coin Slot I described Rob Hawkins' thesis on the history of pinball up through the middle of Chapter 4 concluding Rob's discussion of some of the electrical components of pinball machines.
The next section of that Chapter was titled "The Pinball Machine As Hero and Outlaw". Rob began that section by commenting that the innovations in pingames during the mid 1930's resulted in the game being changed into a "marvel of mechanical ingenuity" with the addition of electricity greatly increasing the popularity of the game. Then, he said, the new games began to be accused of being gambling devices, being outlawed in some places.
This, Rob continued, resulted in police raids and public demonstrations of politicians smashing machines in public. The outlawing, he then remarked, often occurred in courtrooms and occasionally at the ballot box. But, in spite of all this, he said, the game still remained a "hero" to many people.
Rob next began a sub-section called "Hero Images". He then said that the increasing popularity of pingames also caused an increase in the form of newspaper/magazine articles, cartoons, plays, and then movies in most of which the game "played the roll of a hero". He then began describing cartoons depicting pingames.
Rob said that one of the earliest such cartoons (which was reprinted in Billboard) originally appeared in a New York City daily newspaper. It was said to have been precipitated by the use at the time of pingames in the psychiatric wards of city hospitals. The cartoon (which Rob illustrated) showed a patient who was offered a "bagatelle" game by a doctor refusing it saying "it's one of those things that got me this way!". Another cartoon showed customers at a drug store lunch counter using a "Bagatelle" to aid them in selecting a sandwich.
The next sub-topic was "Do It Yourself Pinball". An article was described from Popular Mechanics in 1937 on the construction of a home-made pingame called TRIP EM', which even included a simple electric "kicker". Rob also showed the cover from another do-it-yourself magazine of the period which showed a pingame, the construction of which was included in the magazine. That game was called TRAFFIC BAGATELLE.
The next sub-section was headed "The Pins In Plays and Movies". Rob began by mentioning a play called "Glory For All" which was put on in Philadelphia in 1937 which featured, according to a Billboard article, "a bagatelle game as an integral part of the stage setting". He then went on to mention what was probably the most significant use of a pingame in a play, the 1939 play by famed playwright William Saroyan "The Time Of Your Life".
Rob commented that Saroyan "immortalized" the pinball machine in that play. He then said that Mr. Saroyan lived in New York while writing the play and that it took place in "Nick's Pacific Street Saloon" (which was supposed to be in San Francisco, by the way) which had a pinball machine. He then told how in the last act when one of the characters finally "beat the machine" it "performed all sorts of electrical gymnastics, including playing The Star Spangled Banner".
The play was later made into a movie, Rob then commented, and Bally created special large pingames with the same name which were set up in some theater lobbies to help promote a cancer fund raising drive. Rob then told of another movie, "Sensations of 1945", which he said "was applicable to the hero image of the pinball machine".
Rob ended his discussion of pingames as "heros" by remarking that the games took "many forms" in that context - that of movie star, key stage prop, and cartoon subject. He then commented that pinball as an "outlaw" took only one form. This he said was "that of a villainous thief with connections to the underworld through its older brother the slot machine". That set the scene for the next sub-section "The Pinball As An Outlaw".
Rob began that sub-section by saying that as early as 1933 pingames were beginning to be associated with slot machines, even though operators insisted they were "games of skill". The problem, he went on, was that many pinball operators, and even some machines, provided prizes for high scores. Because of this, he continued, some public officials began a "war on gambling" which often included pins as well as slots.
By the late 1930's, Rob went on, "the great crackdown came" saying that police often raided gambling machines, many times smashing them with hammers. He then said that by that time laws had been passed in many localities prohibiting coin-op gambling devices, which resulted in many "test cases" in the courts - some judges declaring pins were "gambling devices", others ruling they were "amusement games".
Rob next commented that in most cases the question of whether pingames were gambling or amusement devices was settled at the local level. He then said that, rather than trying to review all laws pertaining to the legality of pins, he had selected New York City and Los Angeles as "sample cases" for discussion. Rob then commented that both of these cities banned pinball within three years of each other, but that the methods used and the length of time required to accomplish the bans varied greatly - adding that the mayors of both cities participated in the task.
The next sub-section, "The Los Angeles Method", began with Rob saying that that city did not attempt to ban pingames until 1939. Before that year, he went on, pinball had been quite popular in Los Angeles, with articles being published in national magazines showing Hollywood celebrities amusing themselves with pingames. He next described one such article.
Rob then remarked that just prior to the beginning of the push to ban pins in Los Angeles several large national magazines carried articles "which portrayed Los Angeles in a bad light" - one in Saturday Evening Post covering "gambling boats" and one in Look which labeled Los Angeles as "the wickedest city in the world". Right after that (September 1939) Rob said was when the Los Angeles Police Commission proposed an ordinance banning pingames to the City Council - but whether this was a result of the "bad publicity", or a recent similar ban passed in Pasadena Rob said could not be determined.
The "three official rationales" for the new proposed law were then described - "controlling vice and corruption in the city", "the high cost of police to curb illegal machine gambling", and "school children playing the games". Soon afterward, Rob went on, the commissions's "crusade" was joined by Mayor Fletcher Bowron - a local newspaper article being quoted from, in which the mayor challenged the Look Magazine statements regarding the "wickedness" of the city.
Soon after the new ordnance was proposed, Rob commented, the local "California Amusement Machine Operator's Association" (CAMOA) began their offensive - sponsoring an "educational forum" to allow open discussion of the issue. CAMOA claimed "marble games are trade stimulators, rent payers, and skill games, just as good for the public as the stock market or bowling bets, and less of a public bleeder than horse races".
Rob next said that Mayor Bowron quickly responded to CAMOA charging them with "streamlined lobbying" and claiming that gamblers were "making an effort to reorganize their forces". After more public bickering, he continued, a closely divided City Council voted to hold a public hearing on the issue. This hearing, he said, brought on a deluge of letters and 750 citizens who came to argue against the "marble boards".
Still unable to make a decision, Rob then said, the Council voted to hold a "special election" on December 12, 1939 to put the issue to a public vote. A copy of the ballot proposition was shown. During the weeks before the election, he continued, more "bickering" between both sides took place - especially between the Mayor and CAMOA which was described in some detail.
When the election took place, Rob commented, only about 30 percent of the registered voters voted, with the anti-pinball ordinance being passed 16,264 to 112,709, which was considered "a triumph for Bowron". Pingame operators were then given about a week to remove their games from the city. Rob then remarked that pins remained illegal in Los Angeles for 34 years when the ordnance was challenged in court and overturned in 1973 - resulting in "the emergence of pinball parlors, and the birth of a new generation of pinball wizards".
Rob next started discussing "The New York Way" by saying that city's confrontation with pingames and slots extended over a period of about 10 years (1932 - 1942). During that period, he went on, many people viewed both types of machines as "one in the same" - pointing out that the New York Times Index for that period included all articles relating to pins under the heading "slot machines". He then quoted from an article in the New York Times Magazine describing early pingames as "games of skill". But, he went on, because some early pins issued cash awards they were soon lumped with slot machines.
Rob then said that New York City's attempt to rid itself of gambling devices began early in 1932 when both the Grand Jury Association and the District Attorney's Association came out for stronger laws against slot machines. In the months that followed, Rob said, this "war on gambling" resulted in the seizure of 239 slot machines (of the 20 to 30 thousand estimated to be in the city at that time), many of those being destroyed.
In May of 1933, Rob went on, a judge issued an injunction restraining police from seizing slot machines, ending the city's first drive to do away with gambling. But the temporary cessation of the drive didn't last too long, he continued, because early in 1934 a police department "shake up" resulted in another "anti-slot drive".
Then in early 1934, Rob said, the court curbed the police gambling drive even further by making a distinction between "bagatelle games" and "slot machines" - saying that the former were "games of skill". It was about that time that Fiorello La Guardia, who was to play a major part in the city's anti-gambling crusade, was elected Mayor and the crusade continued.
Rob next told of a June 1935 article in a New York newspaper describing a courtroom anti-pingame case in which three "expert" players failed to convince a Bronx judge that pinball was a "game of skill". The result was that a candy store proprietor was found guilty of "maintaining a room for gambling". That, he said, was "the first legal ruling in New York City against pinball based on a lack of skill".
The day after that ruling, Rob then said, Mayor La Guardia held a news conference on a New York pier, after which he and members of the police commission proceeded to smash some confiscated slot machines, then dumping them into Long Island Sound. After that, he went on, the Mayor gave instructions to his License Commissioner to stop issuing licenses for pin or bagatelle games like those covered by the recent court decision.
This licensing ban, Rob next commented, was challenged in court which upheld the commission's action as to games which issued tokens as "awards" - declaring those games to be "gambling devices". The ruling, Rob said, did however specifically differentiate games which allowed players to earn rewards of prizes or merchandise as not coming under the ruling. This did not discourage the Mayor, Rob remarked, from instructing the license commissioner to "clean out all machines covered by the decision ("token payout" games) and to revoke licenses of places which operated them - also ordering the police to seize all such machines".
Rob next said that 1936 "proved to be a trying time for pinball operators and location owners alike". In January, he went on, a Bronx court defined pins as "gambling devices" allowing the Mayor to order a ban on all such games. When the commissioner then suspended licenses on pingames (and vowed to inspect all small stores for them), Rob said that operators obtained a court order for a hearing on the commissioner's right to suspend the licenses. The commissioner agreed to delay his suspensions until the court ruled.
After a postponement, Rob went on, the court found that operating pinballs for prizes was prohibited by state gambling laws and denied the injunction. The Appellate Court, he then said, upheld the commissioner's right to revoke licenses resulting in thirty locations being closed and forty more warned to remove "illegal features" from their games.
Rob next said that in June 1936 the commissioner stated that machines may be operated provided they were licensed. The Mayor, he continued, obtained the statement of a university professor who reported that the results of 97,900 supervised tests at the university determined that pinball was a game of "chance" and not of "skill". This, Rob then remarked, had no effect and an "uneasy truce" existed for the next six years between "the guardians of public morals" and the pinball operators.
The next event in the "pinball wars", Rob said, was a March 1941 ban on pingames in Teaneck New Jersey which in October was challenged by a pinball distributor and a restaurant owner who had lost a machine in a police raid. The Township Manager, he then said, retained the same university professor as his "expert witness".
At about this same time, Rob then commented, pinball was "getting into trouble again in New York City", and also had "setbacks on a national level". In November, he said, New York again attempted to outlaw the game in another court case, and in December the Federal Office Of Production Management curtailed amusement machine production by 75 percent due to "the world situation".
In January 1942, Rob then commented, the New York City Police again began raiding pinball machines when a court ruled they were "gambling devices". He showed the infamous photo of the Mayor knocking over a seized pingame. Early that year, he continued, there was a flurry of anti-pinball activity with injunctions, confiscations, etc., causing "the pinball machine to fall from grace in New York City" and being "outlawed completely"!
The worst, Rob said, was yet to come, telling of the New Jersey Supreme Court upholding the city of Teaneck's outlawing pingames as gambling devices - the testimony of that university professor being used to convince the court that pingames were not primarily games of skill. Rob then quoted from a personal correspondence he received from the professor telling of his recollections of the case which included an anonymous mail death threat he received at the time.
The chapter ended with Rob telling of the final complete wartime ban on amusement machine production by the War Production Board on March 16, 1942. He then said at that time the pinball machine was "truly an outlaw - outlawed in Los Angeles by popular vote, in New York City through the constant efforts of the police and the Mayor, in New Jersey by the testimony of a physics professor, and finally totally by the War Production Board".
But, Rob concluded, pinball remained a "hero" after the war, and came to life again, and thanks to Mr. Harry Mabs, pinball is now legal in all the above mentioned cities. The chapter then ended with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 5 - THE "GOLDEN YEARS" AND AFTER
Rob began the chapter by remarking that even after the wartime ban on pinball production was lifted the industry still was "plagued with shortages". But, he continued, the wartime predictions of few post-war innovations proved to be true, it not being until late in 1947 that anything significant happened to pingames. This was, he said, the invention of the flipper by Gottlieb designer Harry Mabs.
Rob began a section titled "The Flipper" by stating that the main purpose of adding flippers to pingames was to "provide the player with the chance to exercise skill" during play of the game. This was done, he said, to try to avoid "legal entanglements" related to "games of chance". He then began telling of previous attempts to provide "player control" to pingames.
In 1932, Rob then commented, Rockola came out with a game called JUGGLE BALL which had a player operated "stick" with which he could attempt to alter the course of the ball - a game he said which was not too successful. He then said that it wasn't until October 1947 that another attempt at player control was tried - a Bally game called NUDGY having a player-controlled electro-mechanical device which could move the entire playfield by a small amount - this he said was also unsuccessful.
Rob next remarked that it was only a month after NUDGY came out that Gottlieb introduced the flipper on HUMPTY DUMPTY. This game, he went on, containing six flippers, gave the player "a greater degree of control over the ball" by allowing him to activate a set of flippers (there were 2 sets of 3 - one on each side) at "critical moments of play" which could "make the difference between a low score and that capable of winning a replay". He then went into more detail on how these flippers could be used by the players.
After quoting from a 1966 Esquire article "Mother Was A Pinball Machine", describing a player skillfully using flippers during a game, Rob commented that "control of the ball is a large part of the pinball game". He ended his discussion of flippers by pointing out that their introduction certainly did much to help the pinball machine distinguish itself from "gambling devices" which had legal problems in many areas.
The next section of the chapter, "The Evolution Of The Bumper", began with Rob remarking that the old "spring type" bumpers, originally introduced in 1936, underwent several changes after the war, evolving into "two distinct new types". The first of these he referred to as "Mushroom Bumpers". (Author's Note: I believe Rob himself coined that term to describe "un-powered" plastic bumpers, because that term was not used by the industry, I believe, until years later when Bally introduced an entirely new type of bumper which they called by that name).
Rob began a subsection titled "Mushroom Bumpers" by saying that they were "the simpler of the two types" and had the identical scoring capabilities of the original "spring type" - but were "totally different" in form". He then began describing their configuration in detail. He said they had a plastic ring slightly above the playfield which when struck from any direction by a ball would cause an electrical switch under the playfield to close, thus scoring points. He went on to tell how many of those bumpers could be illuminated by an internal light bulb, a lit bumper often signifying that its scoring value had been increased (usually by a factor of 10).
The next subsection, "Thumper Bumpers", began with Rob saying that that form of bumper was activated much the same way as the type previously described, but that it had a solenoid coil incorporated into it. He then described how, when activated by a ball, the circuit to the solenoid is also completed which causes a metal ring near the top of the bumper assembly to be "yanked downward forcibly" causing the ball to be "driven violently away" from the bumper.
Rob next remarked that this kicking away of the ball by the "Thumper Bumper" was the "major difference between the two types of bumpers developed after the war." He then commented that the first use of the "Thumper Bumper" was probably on an Exhibit Supply pingame called CIRCUS which came out in 1948.
(Author's Note: While that game may have had a form of "thumper bumper" it probably was not of the construction Rob described, as Exhibit's CONTACT (which came out at about the same time) utilized a powered bumper of a radically different construction)
The next section of the chapter was titled "Raising The Score". Rob began this short section by telling of several factors which he said "aided the industry in eliminating the gambling image that was prevalent during the late Thirties" - factors which he said also "assisted in acquiring/maintaining player interest in the games".
Rob then said that the use of "replay units" on almost all games (and the virtual elimination of coin payouts on pingames) was one such factor. The other major factor, he then went on, was the addition of flippers which incorporated more player skill into the game, and also aided in changing the games's image at that time.
The next chapter section, titled "Pinball Themes in Backglasses and Board Design", Rob began by commenting that "the name, theme, and design of the backglass and playboard were all inter-related in an ingenious fashion in the pinball machines that were produced during the 'Golden Years'". He then went on to say that the name of the game "set the theme for the machine's design, which was then carried out in the 'scoring artwork' and the form of the 'scoring objectives' on the playfield".
As his first example of this Rob used Genco's ROCKET of 1950, telling how the backglass was decorated with planets, rockets, etc., with nine rockets being used to indicate each 100,000 score increment. Three planets on the backglass, he went on, illustrated one, two, and three million scores - then describing how the lighting of these rockets and planets indicated the player's current score. The playfield artwork was next described in detail which also fitted in with the game's theme
As his next example Rob used Gottlieb's BARNACLE BILL from 1948, with a "crusty old sea captain" as its main subject. He then described the backglass art as consisting of "boats, a lighthouse, and a pier on which Barnacle Bill stood banging on the door of a multi-storied brothel". He then told how the one-hundred-thousand scores were shown on pennants waiving above the brothel, while the 10,000's were shown on life preservers.
After mentioning the nautical items illustrated on BARNACLE BILL's playfield, Rob ended the section by reiterating that games of that period had their backglass scoring indications "blended into the theme", each being separately illuminated as game scores advanced. He then added that "it was this total coordination of all aspects of the game that became the trademark of machines manufactured during 'The Golden Years'".
The next section of the chapter, "Animated Backglasses", began with Rob remarking that the "idea of total coordination was taken one step further when backglasses began to incorporate 'animation'" - which he said also had to "maintain the theme" of the game". He then remarked that Gottlieb became quite adept at incorporating this feature (animation). Rob then illustrated his point by describing the animation used on Gottlieb's 1948 game ALI BABA.
Rob said that its theme was "'Middle Eastern' - containing harem dancing girls, sheiks, onion towers, and large ceramic jugs". He then described the "animation" in which lady rope climbers moved up a rope as points were scored. Turning to another Gottlieb game of the same year, CINDERELLA, he told of its animation involving "the gradual changing of a pumpkin into a modern automobile".
Rob ended that section by commenting that the game designers and manufacturers "soon realized that they could incorporate methods other than high score to award replays". This, he said, involved a prerequisite that "those methods had to be sufficiently complex to entice the player, yet not make it too easy to win replays".
The next sub-section of the chapter was titled "Multi-method Replays". Rob began by saying that what became known as "Special Features" were employed in many "Golden Years machines". These features, he went on, allowed players to win replays by getting a ball to drop into a certain hole or hit a certain target. Rob went on to say that there was always a "prerequisite" - such as requiring the player to get a ball "through a series of gates, or to hit a series of targets - sometimes even in a particular order".
Rob then gave some examples. The first was Bally's CARNIVAL in 1948 where a player could score a replay by getting a ball to go over a rollover switch on the playfield provided a certain "sequence" of five bumpers had been previously hit (and lit). He next went into much detail on the various ways in which replays could be made on Gottlieb's SITTIN' PRETTY (1958) - Rob's first pingame. This was followed by a description of the "light animation" on its backglass.
The part of the chapter telling of pinballs "Golden Years" ended with Rob remarking that the Golden Years concluded with the advent of "drum scoring". He then described these score-indicating devices in detail, also commenting that when these were used it was no longer necessary to "integrate the score into the backglass theme". By 1958, Rob then commented, the Golden Years had come to an end and the pinball machine was "again undergoing changes which would drastically alter the appearance of the backglass".
The final section of the chapter, titled "And After: 1958", began with Rob remarking that "drum scoring" soon became "standard" throughout the industry - which he said made games less expensive to produce. He then said that wooden legs and side rails were soon replaced with metal, further reducing production costs. The proliferation of two and four player games was also mentioned.
Rob then told of various playfield "innovations" which began to appear on pingames, such as "messenger balls", "captive balls", "spinners", and "drop targets". Later ideas, he then continued, included ways of "blocking" balls from the "outhole" - two such devices, the "playmore post" and "zipper flippers" were then described in some detail.
A "totally new idea", Rob then remarked, was the use of a "video playfield" - which he said was used by Chicago Coin on a game called SUPER FLIPPER. He then told how the entire playfield of this game was replaced by a "television type screen". Rob next described the operation of that game. He then commented "who is to say that in 10 years a device similar to this involving a color picture tube, and other unforseen developments will not be manufactured and become a raging success". The chapter then ended with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 6 - SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The final chapter of the thesis began with a section titled (of course) "Summary". Rob began by commenting that "nostalgia" had been a "keyword" in the 1970's - then saying that for some reason people have turned their attention to things of the past, such as movies, clothes, and pop music. Rob then said that pinballs have also been part of that revival - evidenced by a proliferation of pingames, pinball parlors, and even a pinball rock opera - Tommy. These games, he went on, which were once declared immoral and illegal, have returned to become a family recreation.
After commenting that this revival of pingames sparked an interest in the games and the industry, Rob remarked that the lack of research and documentation in that area is now apparent - adding that to date (1976) there has been "no comprehensive work" published on the subject. He then said that there were a few "superficial and often inaccurate" articles on pins in popular publications, however.
Rob then remarked that the trade journals indicate that at least four books on the subject were in pre-production, but it was not known whether they would be "comprehensive historical studies" or "superficial industry surveys". He then said that the purpose of his study was to "fill the void" and to "document the development of the pinball machine".
He next recounted the various information sources for his thesis, including: trade journals, newspaper and magazine articles, personal memories, and correspondence with industry figures. Rob then described possible areas where future research could be conducted to add to what he had uncovered - also telling of some things which could make such endeavors difficult.
Rob then commented that his research has determined "that the history of the pinball machine is both intriguing and multi-facetted" - adding that it also "provides innumerable tangent forming potential starting points for countless additional chapters". He then told a little about pinball's possible links to European games, especially "French Bagatelle" - also talking of other similar "ancestors" of the modern pingame.
After then mentioning the changing of those early games into "the first pinball machine" - THE WHOOPEE GAME - Rob told how that game's demise was caused by the economic conditions of the time, which also "provided the impetus for the first real boom in coin-operated amusement machines". He then commented that "as the popularity of these new machines spread, technical advancements (in them) began to appear".
Rob then mentioned the technological advancements in pingames which came about between 1931 and 1941, including the addition of electricity (the greatest innovation since the game's inception), which he said resulted in "changes in size, complexity, and popularity of the games". Rob then mentioned the problems which some of the games had with legal considerations causing them to be "banned" in some localities.
At the start of World War II, Rob then continued, the production of amusement machines was halted, with the factories turning to "production of war-related materials" After the war, he went on, the refinement of the replay mechanism, the introduction of "mushroom" and "thumper" bumpers, and the invention of the flipper "created the 'Golden Years' era".
During that period (1947 - 1958) Rob said "the pinball machine reached the pinnacle of complexity and creativeness". He then told of the integration of the score indicating numbers and the game's artwork theme combining to make games of this period "artfully ingenious". Rob next remarked that the "player controlled flippers" which were introduced during that period provided a "skill factor" which "soon began to break through the legal barriers and again allow the game wide circulation".
Rob ended his summary by remarking that with the development of the drum score counter "the Golden Years ended and an era of multi-player, simplified backglass design, an generally lack-luster machines began". Finally, he added the comment "innovations were few and far between with only an occasional bright light - most developments were simply old ideas reworked".
The "Conclusions" section contained a list of six major conclusions of the study. The first was that "the historical lineage of the game probably dates back to medieval times and the European game of Bagatelle". Second was "the first pinball game was THE WHOOPEE GAME in 1929". Rob's third conclusion was that "the period 1931 - 1941 witnessed the greatest number of innovations and developments in the game's components and design".
Rob's fourth conclusion was that "the 'gambling issue' combined with World War II caused an interruption in the evolution/production of pinball machines". His fifth conclusion was that "the development of the flipper in 1947 injected the element of 'skill' into the game and provided the impetus for successfully challenging earlier court rulings which declared the machines to be 'gambling devices'".
The final conclusion Rob stated was that "the years 1948 - 1958 were 'The Golden Years' for pinball and witnessed more complex systems for attaining high scores and replays and more elaborate backglass designs". Rob then ended his thesis by remarking that "the history of the pinball machine is an interesting one, intermeshed with the social, political, and economic history of the country", adding "for nearly half a century the pinball game - with numerous ups and downs - has been part of the American scene". He then ended the chapter (and the body of the thesis) with some lines from William Saroyan's play "The Time of Your Life".
The final part of the thesis consisted of a detailed Bibliography listing all the references cited in the thesis, a detailed "Subject Index", and copies of two personal letters Rob had received. One was from pioneer coin-machine industry writer/publisher Bill Gersh, and the other from Professor Clarence C. Clark who testified in two of the early trials involving pingames and gambling.
That ends my two-part description of what could be considered "the first pinball book". It is easy to see that Rob Hawkins put in a lot of work researching and writing his thesis and it was the first real attempt to document the history of this fascinating amusement device.
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