If someone told you pinball was cool again you may beg to differ, or even wonder when it ever was. Yet, it can’t be denied pinball’s popularity is, once again, on the rise. One form of proof is the hottest new gadget around, Apple’s iPad, has a surprise top selling application called Pinball HD. The new game’s gorgeous look and simple fast paced play has seduced a new tech-savvy generation. Pinball’s popularity has always come in waves and although pinball’s demise has been proclaimed many times, it has once again beaten the odds refusing to vanish into oblivion. However, to be part of this most recent resurgence, pinball has had to be innovative and resilient for well over a century.
In the late 1800’s pinball was nothing more than a box with an angled board full of nails called a Bagatelle. Some had legs while others lay upon a table. It had a few numbered holes drilled into the wood so the ball could drop in and amass a score. Seen mainly at fairs and amusement parks, a lack of excitement was its first and most obvious hurtle with curiosity its only attraction. Ultimately, there was little to keep players coming back.
As pinball hung on, eventually, coin operation was added in 1931 but pinball’s format still left a lot to be desired. One enterprising pub owner realized gambling on pinball could spark interest. After inserting a coin you would receive a number of balls. By pulling a coil spring plunger you would launch each ball onto the play field. As the ball ricocheted off pins one hoped it would eventually drain down a high value hole. Attain a certain score and you would be compensated with food, drinks, and even money. What was seen as harmless fun to some was frowned upon by the law. As the first quarter of the 20th century came to a close, pinball’s image needed a boost. But, as it sometimes does, the world got in the way.
WWII was raging on. These were lean times for pinball manufactures and new machines were rare. During this time of adversity the government shifted manufacturing efforts to support war time necessities, pinball was no exception. Although there was little time to build full production pinball, clever developers created conversion kits. They would use the existing machines and with new paint, bumpers, and a fresh back glass pinball was still afloat. A large number of kits were pro-America war designs, a clever marketing scheme that would bring more fans to the table. Suddenly, with the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, 1945 saw the beginning of the end of WWII. Manufactures were ready to get back to business.
With the war nearly over pinball’s future was briefly looking up. Unfortunately, growth was stalled again by major cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A. having outlawing it. The conviction of politicians that it was a gambling device was stronger than ever. Even machines that no longer paid out prizes were against the law to own. If your establishment was harboring a pinball machine the...