Snapshot history of pinball
1777 – The precursor to pinball is a French game called Bagatelle. The game is credited to the Count of Artois, who hosts a party for his brother King Louis XIV and the queen at the Chateau de Bagatelle. Bagatelle is played on a narrowed billiard table by shooting a cue ball at pins at one end of a table. The game is named after the count, and its popularity spreads through France, eventually making its way to America via French soldiers fighting the British during the American Revolutionary War.
1871 – Modern pinball is born when Montague Redgrave patents his “Improvements in Bagatelles”, U.S. Patent #115,357, for a coiled spring and plunger.
1931 – David Gottlieb manufactures Baffle Ball, the first commercially successful, coin-operated pinball machine. The machines sell for $17.50 and dispense seven balls for one penny. Pinball is an instant hit in depression-era America where people seek cheap forms of entertainment. Gottlieb sells over 50,000 units in less than seven months.
1932 – Ray Maloney, a Gottlieb distributor, is unable to get enough machines to meet popular demand, and he forms Lion Manufacturing to produce Ballyhoo, named after a popular magazine. Over 75,000 units sell, and Maloney renames the company Bally Manufacturing because of the game’s success.
1932 – Harry Williams invents the tilt mechanism while working for Pacific Amusements.
1933 – Harry Williams invents the battery-powered, electric solenoid kicker on the game Contact.
1933 – Pinball’s association with gambling begins when payout machines are invented to dispense coins to players for reaching a certain score.
1936– Bally Manufacturing introduces pinball bumpers and electric scoring with its game Bumper.
1939 – Pinball is made illegal in Los Angeles, as pinball gambling becomes more common and is linked with corrupting the nation’s youth.
1942 – Pinball is made illegal in New York City, and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia bans the game declaring that it robs the “pockets of school children in the form of nickels and dimes given to them as lunch money.” He participates in numerous police raids, smashing and burning machines and dumping the remnants into the city’s rivers.
1947 – Harry Mabs, Gottlieb’s chief designer invents the flipper on Humpty Dumpty. The machine has 6 flippers reversed from the standard position we see today.
1947 – Steve Kordek with Genco Manufacturing designs Triple Action, which places two reversed flippers at the bottom of the playfield.
1950 – On Gottlieb’s Spot Bowler Wayne Neyens changes the flipper direction to the common orientation still used today.
1954 – Gottlieb releases the first multiple player machine with Super Jumbo.
1956 – Bally introduces the first “multiball” game with Balls-a-Poppin.
1957 – The first use of a “match” bonus feature is introduced. A random number is shown on the backglass, and if it matches the last digit of the player’s score, a free game is awarded.
1961 – The first “add-a-ball” game, Flipper Parade, is introduced to award extra balls instead of free games, which allows machines to be operated in areas of the country that outlaw pinball machines that award free games.
1962 – Williams introduces the drop target on Vagabond.
1968 – Williams introduces three-inch flippers on Hayburners II, the standard size still used today.
1969 – The Who’s rock opera album Tommy debuts popularizing the song "Pinball Wizard".
1974 – The California Supreme Court overturns the ban on pinball machines in the state.
1975 – Mirco releases the first solid-state, or electronic, pinball machine titled
Spirit of ’76, ushering in the electronic age of pinball and replacing electromechanical machines.
1976 – The New York City pinball ban is overturned. Roger Sharpe testifies before city council in a Manhattan courtroom that pinball games are a game of skill, not chance. In a move he compares to Babe Ruth’s 1932 World Series called home run shot, he boldly states that he will plunge the ball, and the ball will go through the middle lane. He does as promised, and the city council overturns the ban on the spot.
1979 – Williams releases the first talking pinball machine, Gorgar, which has a vocabulary of seven words.
1985 – Gottlieb introduces the first alpha-numeric display on a pinball machine, Chicago Cubs Triple Play.
1988 – Williams buys out Bally and combines the companies into Bally
1991 – Data East introduces the first dot matrix display on the game
1992 – Bally’s game The Addams Family breaks the record for the most flipper pinball machines made with 20,270 units. Two years later, they run an additional 1,000 gold machines to commemorate the record.
1994 – Sega Pinball buys out Data East Pinball.
1996 – Gottlieb Pinball goes out of business.
1999 – Williams closes its pinball division to focus on making slot machines, which it still does to this day under the WMS brand.
1999 – Stern Pinball buys out Sega Pinball and becomes the only pinball manufacturer in the market.
1998 – Williams produces the first pinball machine with a video screen integrated into the playfield design with Pinball 2000.
2007 – Several entrepreneurs produce boutique pinball runs of fewer than 200 machines.
2011 – Jersey Jack Pinball opens its doors as a new pinball manufacturer.
2013 – Spooky Pinball opens its doors as a new pinball manufacturer.
A lot more history has happened since 2013 in this pinball revival!
The first commercially available coin-operated pinball machine was the Baffle Ball, shown here, designed by D. Gottlieb & Company in 1930. The following year, Raymond T. Moloney came out with Ballyhoo, Bally’s first pinball machine. Raymond Moloney also founded the Bally Manufacturing Company. However, the term "pinball" was not coined until 5 years later in 1936.
The first version of Baffle Ball sold was set for ten balls for 1 penny. The game retailed for $17.50 which would be about $194.00 in 2005 dollars. The Gottlieb factory ran 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week, and they still could not keep up with the demand. They eventually ended up selling over 50,000 of these machines.
One of the most famous operator stories about pinball back in the 1930s was that pinball machines put out on location would be paid off within one day. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, since that would mean people would have to play a game every 50 seconds for 24-hours straight. These machines may not have paid themselves off overnight, but they created a new form of cheap entertainment in the heart of the Great Depression.
The Contact is considered by many to be the father of modern pinball because of the use of solenoids. The game came in three sizes, and the Baby Contact is usually shown on exhibit at the Rocky Mtn. Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo.
Notice the pins! Pinball is loosely based on these early machines.
About us - Where did this festival come from?
There are amazingly interesting, and ridiculously random tid-bits and lessons, people, and adventures Dan and I learn along our path of creating a pinball and classic arcade gamer festival. We are thankful to have met some wonderful people in the gaming community across the country -- good people who support others, give back, and are just genuinely nice people to know. We've all seen our families grow and change.
We are thankful for the positive and the negative. The positive reinforces that we are working in the right direction. The negative reminds us to be humble and to learn from mistakes. We've had a lot of both, and think you might find some of our stories enlightening, or at least entertaining enough to help you fall asleep at night, or take a much needed nap at work.
We always love hearing from our community. Come and say hello and swap war stories anytime.
-Dan and Holly
We are a family affair! Remember this when you come to the show. All those games you see and love were organized on the phone with kids running amok, homework being corrected, and after work that pays the bills. In the middle of the night, web updates are made, billboards designed, and insane hours are spent making sure your shirt design is awesome.
"Hon, what do you think about me getting a pinball machine," Dan asks Holly. The first machine was a Fire! hauled out of an ancient basement in Pueblo, Colo., and pushed up the stairs to our tiny, post-college condo. This was just the start of Dan's love of pinball. The classic arcade interest began back when he was a kid working at his parent's business, and he used to ask for quarters to play Spy Hunter and Black Tiger in the grocery store arcade next door.
Gambling with our finances, we worked night and day to make the first show a quality experience for new and casual players, collectors, and tournament players. We are lucky, and were rewarded with a new found love of bringing the game of pinball to a fantastic group of people who each in their own way appreciate the play, the history, the art, and the science of the game.
Established in 2004, we now celebrate over 14 years of a successful pinball and gaming show, and we still work night and day to make each show better than the last. We still get a rush sharing the show with fans from Colorado, across the nation, and abroad.
Dan and I are lucky to be a complementary and creative business team. We have a great time thinking of new ways to rally interest in pinball and classic arcade culture. He runs the front of the house before the show, organizing speakers, exhibitors and pinball machines with fans across the Front Range and neighboring states, while I run the full package of branding, advertising and marketing, including graphic and web design in the back of the house. Come show time, we switch, and I run the front, interacting with all the great fans and running the staff, while Dan runs the back of the house, including the tournaments and the logistics of organizing hundreds of pinball, retro console, and classic arcade machines.
What seems like thousands of games later, a few well-earned business lessons, and some good friends to enrich our lives, we invite you, your family, and friends to experience the magic and the rush of playing pinball and classic arcade games at the Rocky Mtn. Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo.
The show is a labor of love, and while it occupies our evenings and weekends, our days are full with our family and careers: Dan is a Colo. licensed civil engineer, and Holly is a residential REALTOR® for buyers and sellers, homes and land, http://www.valueinrealestate.com (full service, licensed Colo. broker). Holly is a volunteer Girl Scout leader and member of the Junior League of Denver. We have two amazing children, Alexis and Matthew.
Holly's mom, dad, sister, and best friends all help to make us sane and the festival run smoothly. An extra shout out to Valerie Kleinman, Holly's mom, who has sat next to her at the front registration desk for over 14 years through thick and thin. Love you mom!
We'd like to extend a special thanks to the local pinball community for your longtime support in helping us to make happen the Rocky Mtn. Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo.
We seek to rally, promote, and enrich the awareness of pinball and classic arcade culture through the creation of fun, quality entertainment experiences for all ages and skill levels of pinball and classic arcade fans, collectors, and tournament players, who each in their own way appreciate the play, art, science, and history of the pop culture phenomena.
Giving back to the community
The Rocky Mtn. Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo owners are strong believers in community, and support giving back where and when one can. We are pretty quiet about giving back to the community becasue we think of it as the right thing to do, not a PR stunt. So, if you don't hear about our donations splashed all over social media or the crowd, don't worry. We'd rather it remind you to find your own quiet way of giving back to the community.
A select few of the ways we support the community:
We are pleased to have hosted for a number of years a group of students from Denver's Imagine! program, as well as to help out the Able Games. We are very excited to have had a number of Boy Scout troops visit over the years and help them out with special admission.
We give back financially every year to a good community cause, including the Children's Hospital of Denver and Denver Health's Newborns in Need program. We donate to worthy raffles that fundraiser for good causes such as the March of Dimes.
We do have paid workers, but you will also see "volunteers", who are being paid to help out at the show and are there to help their schools purchase items like new tennis nets and wrestling equipment, to earn money for church camp, fund Boy and Girl Scout activities, and to support other community efforts. We have even hosted a Boy Scout Merit Design Badge.
When able, the show also donates shirts to local community help groups.
Bally’s Rocket was designed by Harry Williams, famous for starting Williams Electronics. Williams’s electronics is now known as Williams Gaming after shutting down the pinball division in 1999. The game shown was the very first payout machine.
A payout machine has the ability to award players who reach a certain goal. These awards ranged from free games, tickets, candy, and even coins.
Payout machines were eventually labeled as gambling machines and outlawed in many states. Modern pinball machines all have something in common with this machine — pinball machines award free games for reaching a certain score or matching at the end of the game.
1934 Automatic Amusements Co.
The Action was designed to run on dry cell batteries; however, a few have been converted to run on a power cord. The bouncer at the top is like a pop bumper or sling shot, as when it is hit, it kicks the ball away. When the ball falls into a hole, it is kicked out into a higher scoring area.