by Russ Jensen


     One of the first pinball articles I ever wrote (actually my fourth)

was published in June 1979 in a small publication called Amusement

Review.  The article was titled "Pinball Dating".  The idea behind that

article was to describe the changes in the pinball machine over the

years to aid a person in determining the year of manufacture of a game

he might see or have described to him.  That article was reprinted a

little later in the February 1981 issue of COIN SLOT.


     There was one thing, however, that was wrong with that original

article.  That was that it was not accompanied by any photographs!  For

that reason (plus the fact that it has been over 10 years since it was

last published) I have decided to reissue "Pinball Dating"; this time

well illustrated and with a few other improvements.  In fact, this

article will be sort of a 'thumbnail photographic history' of the

pinball machine.  So here goes!




     How can you date a pinball?  If you know the name of the game and

it's manufacturer, and have a list of names and dates, you can just look

it up!  But if you don't have such a list, or just have a description of

some of the physical and playfield characteristics of the game (or the

game is not on your list), then you must resort to other means.  The

following is a discussion, with illustrations, of some of the telltale

signs which should enable one to approximate the date of manufacture of

a given game, at least to within a few years.


     Before we talk about how to date a game however, lets talk about

how not to.  Probably the most common mistake made by the uninformed

when trying to determine the date of a pinball machine is to go by

patent numbers found somewhere on the machine.  The most common place

where patent numbers are found, especially on older games, is probably

on the coin chute.  This, however, is the worst place to find reliable

dating information since coin mechanisms have been around for a long

time, and a patented feature may have been developed in the 1920's, or

even before.  The only information you can gain from a patent number is

that the game in question was made sometime after the latest patent date

found on it.




     Pinballs of the 'pioneer period' (1931 - 1936) are probably the

easiest to date, with the possible exception of the 1946 to 1949 era.

The 'scoring objective' in almost all cases in this early period was the

playfield hole, until the introduction of the bumper in 1936. 


     Most of the games of 1931/32 were 'counter top' models, with only

holes and metal pins on their playfields.  A few had legs late in 1932,

and stands were also available for some models.


     By 1933 most machines came equipped with legs, but the games still

had passive holes and no type of 'action'.  An exception to this were a

few mechanical games, such as Rockola's WORLD SERIES and JIGSAW, which

had some 'mechanical action' features, powered either by the weight of

the ball itself or by a spring wound up by the player pushing in the

coin chute.


     In 1934 games with battery operated kickers or 'guns' started to

appear, and by the second half of the year many games had such 'action

devices'.  By the end of 1934 electric lights could be found on the

playfields of a few games.  This year also saw the introduction of bells

in a few models.


     Most pingames of 1935 had electric kickers; many also having

lights, either on the playfield or on the short (approximately 4 to 6

inches high) backboards which started to appear on many games.  By the

later part of that year about one out of every three pins had some form

of backboard.  Also in 1935, the switch from battery power to 'house

current' (A.C.) began.


     In 1936 the number of games with backboards increased rapidly as

did the use of A.C. power, which by the end of the year was used on most

machines.  In June 1936 Rockola introduced a game, TOTALITE, with an

electric light indicating score totalizer which would become the common

method of pinball scorekeeping until the end of the 1950's.


     The year 1936 was also very important in pinball history because in

December Bally introduced the 'bumper' to pinball!  The hole was no

longer the principal pinball scoring objective.


     The games of 1937 and 1938 generally had spring type bumpers.  Most

of the earlier games of that period had short backboards (approximately

6 to 10 inches in height), but by the end of 1938 many had tall



     Pingames of the period between 1939 and 1941 can generally be

described as having tall backboards (about the height of those in use

today), some form of bumper, and no 'kickout holes' (except for a few

Exhibit Supply games made in late 1941).  About the only way to

distinguish between these three years was the style of bumper used.


     The earliest form of bumper, the 'spring type' (see photo) which

was similar to those used on Bally's BUMPER, will be found on most games

of this period from all manufacturers until the later part of 1939, and

by many up until late 1940. For a short period of time in 1939 a few

manufacturers (primarily Exhibit and Bally) used a different style of

bumper which I shall call the 'double disk type' (see photo).


     By the end of 1940, or early 1941 at the latest, all manufacturers

were using the molded plastic type bumpers of the type common throughout

the rest of the 1940,s, the 1950's, and even later on a few games.


     Scoring in this period was almost always by lighted panels on the

backglass with scores in the hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands.

Some of the earlier games of the period, however, used projected scores

on the backboard either in increments of 1 or 10.




     During World War II pinball production was discontinued "for the

duration".  The only 'new' games coming out during this period were

'conversions' of prewar games.  Since the style of these games was

essentially the same as the pre-war games from which they were

converted, the only way to tell them apart was that the 'conversions'

generally had 'war themes'.  This, however, is not always indicative of

a 'wartime conversion' as some games with 'war themes' came out quite

awhile before America's entry into the conflict.


     Most games made in 1946 and 1947 can be separated from those made

before the War by the fact that they had 'kickout holes'.  The only

exception to this were the pre-war Exhibit games previously mentioned.


     During the period from the end of World War II to 1950, several

changes were made to pinballs, making games made during this period

easier to date.  The most significant of these changes of course was the

introduction of the flipper by Gottlieb on HUMPTY DUMPTY in December

1947.  Within a month or two all amusement pinballs had this

revolutionary new device.


     After flippers, the next significant development for pins was the

'pop bumper' in late 1948.  By 1949 virtually all amusement pinballs

were so equipped.  Also, in the late Forties the switch to the 'drop-in'

coin mechanism began.  As far as flipper games were concerned, United

was first in mid 1949, followed shortly by Gottlieb.  Williams was the

last to make this change, not doing so until 1952.  It should be noted

that Bally used a 'drop-in' coin acceptor on their 1-ball horserace

multiple coin machines starting with VICTORY DERBY right after the war.


     Another characteristic which can help in dating games made between

1946 and 1950 is the 'value system' used in scoring.  When pingame

manufacture began again shortly after the war the score values were at

first the same as before the war, the maximum scores ranging from 40,000

to 90,000.


     The first change in this was in 1947 when scores ranging into the

hundreds of thousands began to be used.  Then, late in 1947, Williams

began introducing games with scores which could top ONE MILLION.  By the

beginning of 1949 all manufacturers had adopted 'million scoring', and

this was true of all 'non reel scoring' games to come.  It is

interesting to note that 'million scoring' began reappearing on the

solid-state pins of the 1980's and currently in the 1990's manufacturers

are adopting scoring systems going INTO THE BILLIONS.




     Games made during the decade of the 1950's (often referred as

pinball's "Golden Years") are probably the hardest to date since few

major changes to the game occurred during that period.  All amusement

pins had flippers, pop-bumpers, kickout holes, and scores which ran up

into the Millions (except for 'multi-player', 'reel scoring' games).


     The first multi-player pingame was made in 1954 (Gottlieb's SUPER

JUMBO), therefore all multi-player wood rail games were made between

1954 and the end of the decade.  Williams made a few 'reel scoring'

single player games in 1953 which used fake zeros so that the scores

still ran into the Millions.  They then reverted back to 'light scoring'

for single player games until 1961.


     The other significant changes made to pins during the 1950's were

the introduction of the 'slingshot kicker' (sometimes called a 'kicking

rubber') and metal legs.  The slingshot kicker was first introduced by

Gottlieb in 1951, however it appears that Williams did not adopt it's

use until sometime later.  Metal legs replaced wooden ones on pinballs

in mid 1957.  This however may not always be a good way to date a game

today since the legs may have been changed in later years.




     Two major changes occurred to pinballs around 1960 which made it

easier to tell if a machine was made before or after the 1959-1961 time

frame.  Sometime around 1960 the wooden side rails (the rails that hold

the playfield glass) gave way to stainless steel.  Also about that time,

score indication by means of lights on single player games was replaced

by the use of digital 'score reels'.


     Gottlieb produced a single player reel scoring game (UNIVERSE) in

1959, reverted back to light scoring for awhile, but by mid 1960 went

completely to reel scoring.  Williams, on the other hand, did not go to

reel scoring on single players until mid 1961, except for the few

'million scoring' score reel games mentioned earlier.


     In late 1964 and early 1965 another major change occurred.  All

amusement pingames made before that had a lever on the front of the

cabinet used to raise the balls to the level of the playfield for

shooting, and contained 5 separate balls.  This lever was eliminated at

this time and a 'ball return solenoid' added to return an 'out ball' to

the plunger for reuse.  The absence of this ball lift lever therefore

indicates a game made in the post 1964/1965 period.




     Pingames made in the 1970's, up until the introduction of solid-

state circuitry in 1977/78, were not too much different than those made

in the late 1960's so that period is quite a bit harder to date.

Solid-state pingames, of course, were all made after 1977, and are also

beyond the scope of this article.


     In conclusion, the information given in this article should enable

anyone to determine the date of manufacture of a given pre 1964/1965

pinball machine to within 1 to 6 or 7 years, depending on the era


                    JENSEN PHOTO CAPTIONS




1         WAMPUM BANK - by Sunnisam Games - 1932 'counter top' pingame.

          (Note holes and 'pins'.)


2         BABY CONTACT by Pacific Amusement - 1934 - 1st 'electric

          action' pin.


3         Daval's SPOT-LITE - 1935 - example of early short 'light-up'



4         Bally's BUMPER - 1936 - 1st pingame with 'bumpers' and 'score



5A        Medium sized backboard of Stoner's ELECTRO - 1938 - Has

          lighted score indication in water wheel (100's) and tower

          (1000's).  (Author's collection)


5B        Playfield of ELECTRO with 'modified' spring bumpers.


6A        Tall backboard of Bally's VARIETY - 1939 (author's collection)


6B        Playfield of VARIETY with 'spring type' bumpers.


7         Partial playfield view of Bally's 1939 pingame ROLLER DERBY

          - example of 'double disk' bumpers. (Richard Conger collection)


8A        Backglass of Gottlieb's SPOT POOL - 1941  (John Campbell



8B        SPOT POOL playfield with 'molded plastic bumpers'.


9A        Backglass of Williams' FLAT TOP - 1945 - 'wartime conversion' of

          prewar Bally games.  (Stan Muraski collection)


9B        FLAT TOP playfield.


10A       Backglass of Williams' CYCLONE - 1947 - example of postwar

          pre-flipper pin.  (Note scores into 100,000's.)


10B       CYCLONE playfield.  (Note numerous 'kickout holes'.)


11A       Backglass of 1st flipper game by Genco - TRIPLE ACTION

          - 1948 - designed by Steve Kordek.


11B       TRIPLE ACTION playfield.


12        Partial playfield view of Williams' GEORGIA - 1950 - showing

          early 'pop-bumpers'.


13A       Backglass of Williams' SHOO SHOO - 1951 - 'million scoring'

          flipper pin, typical of "Pinball's Golden Age".

          (Author's collection)


13B       SHOO SHOO playfield.



14A       Backglass (art by Roy Parker) of Gottlieb's SEVEN SEAS - 1959

          - example of 'multi-player' 'wood rail' pingame.

          (author's collection)


14B       SEVEN SEAS playfield.


15A       Backglass of Gottlieb's FLIPPER CLOWN - 1962


15B       FLIPPER CLOWN playfield.

          (Note stainless steel side rails, and ball 'push-up lever'

          directly below plunger.)


16A       Backglass of Williams' MAGIC CITY - 1967


16B       MAGIC CITY playfield.

          (Note absence of 'push-up lever' denoting use of 'ball return



17A       Backglass of Bally's FLIP-FLOP - 1974 - typical 70's 'electro-

          mechanical' pingame.


17B       FLIP-FLOP playfield.