If someone told you pinball was cool again you may disagree, or wonder when it ever was. Still, it can’t be denied pinball’s popularity is on the rise again. Sales of pinball games on computers and video game systems are up. A prime example is that the hottest new gadget, Apple’s iPad, has a surprise top-selling game called Pinball HD. Its gorgeous visuals and fast paced play have seduced the new tech-savvy generation (Saltzman n.p.). Generally, pinball’s popularity has always come in waves and its demise has been foreshadowed many times. Yet, once again it refused to vanish. However, to be part of its most recent resurgence pinball had to be innovative and resilient for well over a century.
Pre 1900 pinball was nothing more than a box with an inclined board full of nails called a Bagatelle. Some had legs while others lay upon a table. A small wooden cue stick would knock a ball onto the playfield where there were valued holes drilled into the wood so the ball could drop in and tally a score (Rossignoli 61). Seen mainly at fairs and amusement parks its lack of excitement was the first and most obvious hurdle. With curiosity being its main attraction there was little to keep players coming back.
Pinball’s bland format did add new features during the 1930’s like bells, bumpers, and buzzers. But, by adding payouts like in slot machines, gambling provided the spark it really needed. Soon, many enterprising pubs and clubs incorporated pinball into their business plan. Pinball was now electric too and inserting a coin would give you a number of balls. Then, pulling the spring-loaded plunger would launch each ball onto the play field. As the ball ricocheted off pins and bumpers one hoped it would eventually drop down a high value hole, instead of drain down the center for nothing. Attain a certain score and you would be compensated with food, drinks, or even money (Kent 5). Granted, what was seen as harmless fun to some was frowned upon by the law. As the first quarter of the century came to a close pinball’s image needed redirection.
By 1941 the U.S. was drawn into WWII. Times were lean for pinball manufactures and new machines were rare. During the conflict our government shifted manufacturing efforts to support war-time necessities. Pinball was no exception. Although there was little time to build full production pinball, clever designers created conversion kits (Porges n.p.). They would use existing machines to add fresh paint, bumpers, and a newly imaged back glass where the score was displayed. Furthermore, a large number of these kits were pro-America war themes. This was a brilliant marketing scheme that would bring more players to the table. Even in times of despair. Despite clever efforts to stay afloat, pinball would soon have its own war to fight.
Pinball’s growth was further hindered in 1942 by major cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A. outlawing pinball (Kent 6). The political conviction that it was a gambling device was...