A VISIT WITH HARRY WILLIAMS
By Russ Jensen
The other day while going through my files I came across a
series of "notes" I had made after my visit to pinball pioneer
Harry Williams in early 1978, and subsequent phone conversations
with him in the years to follow. At that time an idea occurred
to me. I have been promising Dennis to write an article for
Pinball Trader for some time and I thought that I might write a
short series of articles passing on the information I gained from
those conversations to Trader readers.
First, let me briefly relate the story of how I came to
visit Harry in the first place. One day while talking to Roger
Sharpe on the phone, he suggested to me that I call or visit Mr.
Williams sometime, who he described as a very friendly
individual. I didn't really think at that time I would have the
"nerve" to call this great man, but I took his address and phone
Well, several months later my wife and I were visiting
friends who lived about 50 miles from Palm Springs where Harry
lived. I decided that I would try calling him to see if there
was any chance I might visit him sometime. I called him, told
him of my interest in pinball, and that Roger Sharpe had
suggested I get in touch with him, and said that I would sure
like to come see him sometime if it would be no bother. Much to
my delight he responded by asking when I would like to come, and
when I asked "how about today", he again surprised me by saying
"alright, come on over".
I talked to my wife and our friend and they agreed to go to
Palm Springs and look around while I visited Mr. Williams. We
then drove to Palm Springs and they let me off at Harry's house
agreeing to return in an hour or two. Well, I'll tell you, those
were two of the most enjoyable hours of my life!
I had decided not to take many notes during my visit
because I felt it would be more casual and relaxed if I didn't.
So we just had a friendly visit and afterwards I made additional
notes concerning the "highlights" Of our talk. For this reason,
the information in these articles may not be in a real logical
order, but it does cover what I later considered to be the most
interesting information gathered from this "pinball great" during
that visit and the phone conversations that followed later.
I rang the bell and was cordially greeted by Mr. Williams
who invited me in and we sat in the living room. Shortly, his
charming wife served us coffee and we began discussing both of
our favorite subject, pinball.
I started by telling him about my pinball collection (about
10 or 12 games at that time, I believe) and showing him pictures
of them. I remember him asking me why I had so many Bally games
and my saying that it was because they seemed to be easier to
find in our area. When we got to the picture of the one Williams
game I owned at that time, SHOO SHOO from 1951, Harry said, "oh
yes, that was one of my dogs". Ever since then I have thought
that that was a very interesting piece of "pinball trivia".
We then began discussing his early game designs and the
company he founded, called Automatic Amusements, in Los Angeles
in the early 1930's. He said his shop was located in the 2500
block of Pico Blvd., an area I walked through many times as a
teenager in the early 1950's. That area of Los Angeles is still
"coin machine row", even today.
Harry brought out his scrapbook and started telling me
about his early designs and showing me ads for them. Three of
the games he talked about were ADVANCE, SIGNAL, and DEALER. He
described features of these games in some detail and I could
clearly see that he was justifiably proud of his early handiwork.
I also remember being impressed by how clearly he remembered
details of games he had designed over 40 years earlier!
He told me that Bally and Exhibit in a few cases bought the
rights from him to manufacture and distribute some of his designs
in the Mid-West and East, letting Automatic Amusements take care
of the west. He said, however, that part of the "deal" was that
Bally had to credit him as the designer in their advertisement
for the games.
Harry also told me about the first game he designed with a
"light-up" backboard. He said the game was called TRIANGLE, but
so far I have never found any information on a game by that name.
He said it was one of the first games to have such a backboard,
but that Genco's KINGS (April 1935) may have been out first.
He also told me that even though "one-ball payout" games
were quite popular in the mid-thirties he only designed one such
game. This, he said, was called TURRET and the top arch had 3
"slots" for the ball to enter which paid 10, 20, and 30 cents,
respectively. The holes on the playfield, he remarked, paid
varying amounts, up to 3 dollars.
Also during our discussion of Automatic Amusements he told
me that when he went to work in Chicago in 1935 he left his
father in charge of the Los Angeles business.
A major part of our discussions that day centered around
the period of World War II. Harry said that when the war broke
out he, and his game designing partner Lyn Durrant, were working
for Exhibit Supply, the company he said "that made the best games
in 1941". He went on to say that Exhibit didn't seem to be too
interested in obtaining "war contracts". They let Harry and Lyn
out of their contracts and they decided to form a new company,
which they called United Manufacturing, to rebuild games and get
into war work, where the money was in those days.
Harry told of he and Lyn going to Washington DC trying to
get "war contracts" and of Dave Gottlieb being there at the same
time. He remembered Dave as saying, after they had been there
for awhile, "let's go back home and make games".
At that point I mentioned a Gottlieb "war theme" game I had
recently seen called HIT THE JAPS and asked Harry if he
remembered that as being a "conversion" by Gottlieb. He replied
that he did not believe that Dave Gottlieb had ever made any
"conversions", saying that it was probably a production game made
after the war started.
We then discussed the "conversions" made by United, and
later Harry's Williams Manufacturing. He said their conversions
had entirely new playfields. The original cabinets, he remarked,
were re-used, but new designs were applied using decals made by
Advertising Posters which he said were hard to tell from a new
paint job. He emphasized that only the electrical and mechanical
parts and the cabinets were re-used in their conversions.
Harry said he left Lyn Durrant and United in 1942, and
started his own Williams Manufacturing Co. in 1944. He said
Williams' first machine was a "fortune telling" arcade machine
called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He also mentioned another early machine
he made being an arcade shooting game called PERISCOPE. These
games were also "conversions" in that they were built with parts
taken from "pre-war" games, since new parts could not be obtained
during the war for "non-essential" Items such as amusement
I then mentioned an old Williams game a friend of mine
owned called ZINGO which had a vertical playfield. He said he
remembered it also as being another early Williams game.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Williams Manufacturing made two pingame
conversion games in 1945. The first was FLAT TOP, an example of
which now resides in the beautiful Stan Muraski collection in
Rockford Illinois. An example of the last Williams conversion,
LAURA, is owned by Richard Conger of Sebastopol, California,
included in his extensive pin collection.)
After the war was over, Harry said, his first all new game
was SUSPENSE which was the first such game to be produced. He
said this was followed by Gottlieb's STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, and then
Bally's VICTORY SPECIAL.
Harry then told me that at the time when Harry Mabs at
Gottlieb came out with the first flipper, Williams had also been
working on a similar device. Their's, he said, used a shallow
hole into which a ball would drop, which would then be kicked out
by a "bat" behind the hole. This was an "automatic" action,
however, and not controlled by buttons on the cabinet. When I
asked him if he remembered SUNNY as being Williams' first flipper
game he said he could not remember.
I also asked Harry why Williams made a few games in 1953
employing "score reels" and then went back to "light bulb
scoring". He replied that it was because the paper they used for
the reels had problems with "burning". I guess due to heat
generated in the backbox, although thinking about it now I am
confused about how that could happen, unless they used light
bulbs to illuminate the reels.
Regarding United in the later years, Harry said they had
"trouble" in the fifties because they were producing the
controversial "bingo games". I then asked him if the reason
United's bingo circuitry was different from Bally's was because
Bally had some sort of patent on it. He replied that he did not
think so and that the reason was probably that since Lyn Durrant
was a good circuit designer he probably thought his method was
better than Bally's.
At one point during our visit our conversation was
temporarily interrupted by a phone call. It was someone from New
York City (I believe either a newspaper reporter or writer)
asking Harry some questions about his career.
Also during our conversation, Harry told me that he had
recently been contacted by a couple from the San Francisco area,
Jim and Candace Tolbert, who were writing a book on pinball. He
then gave me their address and phone number in case I wanted to
get in touch with them.
(NOTE: A short time later I called them and talked to Candace.
She told me about their forthcoming book, TILT, and said they
were also going to begin publishing a coin-op magazine called
Amusement Review which, she said, was to cover both older games
and the "current scene" as well. She then asked if I would like
to write a column for them on old pingames. I told her I had
never written before, but she convinced me to try it. I finally
agreed, and so began my "pinball writing career". Incidentally,
my column for Amusement Review was called "Five Balls, Five
Cents", a title I decided to retain when I started writing for
COIN SLOT in 1981 and still use today.)
Well, there you have it, a brief account of my memorable
visit with the late coin machine pioneer, Mr. Harry E. Williams.
But my association with Mr. Williams did not end there! In
the years to follow (up until his untimely death in September,
1983) I called him on the phone on several occasions, asking
questions about his career and remembrances of events in pinball
history. In future articles I will relate information obtained
during these conversions in much the same way as I have just
described my original visit to Harry. so stay tuned!
THE HARRY WILLIAMS "PHONECONS" PART 1
Last time I told about my memorable visit with pinball
pioneer Harry Williams at his home in Palm Springs, California in
March 1978. After that visit I had the occasion to talk on the
telephone with Mr. Williams several times between that time and
his untimely death in September 1983.
During these conversations I asked various questions of him
and made notes of his answers and comments. Many different
subjects were discussed during these calls and not necessarily in
any particular sequence; just as the questions came to mind
during the call. In this, and succeeding articles, I will
describe the information I gained from this great man during
these telephone conversations.
Before I start presenting the content of these phone
conversations with Harry, a word about the accuracy of this
information. You must keep in mind that most everything Mr.
Williams told me was from his memory of games and events which,
in general, took place between 30 and 50 years earlier! For this
reason everything he said may not have been entirely accurate.
Names of games may have been confused, etc. However, I have made
no attempt to try and correct this information, even though I may
have reason to believe that some of it was in error. I will
report what Harry told me and it is up to the reader to assign
whatever amount of credence he wishes to this information. As a
final note on this subject, let me say that during these
conversations there were many times when I felt that he sounded
unclear on some points, but with others his memory appeared to me
to be "crystal clear",
My first phone conversation with Mr. Williams occurred on
May 1, 1978. I first asked Harry if he had heard of Universal
Industries, a company in existence in the late 1940's, one of
who's games, a 1-ball horserace game called WINNER, I had just
acquired. He told me that the company had been founded by Mel
Binks (a designer for J. H. Keeney Co.) and Lyn Durrant, Harry's
friend and ex-partner in United Manufacturing and owner of that
outfit at the time. Harry went on to say that United was
eventually taken over by Seeburg in the late 1960's, just as
Williams was taken over by the same company in the early sixties.
I next asked Mr. Williams about two old games owned by a
friend of mine, Fred Roth of Thousand Oaks California., on
neither of which we could find any manufacturer's name. One of
these games, TORPEDO, he said he did not exactly remember, but
from my description of it's features he said it sounded very
similar to Bally's FLEET of 1934. The other game I mentioned,
STAR-LITE, (also from the mid Thirties) he said he thought may
have been made by Chicago Coin. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: A list of game
names, appearing in the January 1940 issue of the trade
publication Coin Machine Journal, showed 2 games by that name,
one made by Automatic Engineering Co., and the other by Exhibit
When I finally asked him about another of Fred's games, an
early game by his Williams Manufacturing Company called ZINGO, he
had a better recollection. He said he remembered making that
upright game during World War II using parts from pre-war games
(since during the war game manufacturers could not get any new
parts or war essential materials). When I told him that Fred's
machine had large colored light bulbs mounted on each side, Harry
said he did not remember building it that way, the lights
probably being added by an operator.
Finally, Harry told me of the very first machine made by his
Williams Manufacturing. He said it was a fortune telling arcade
machine called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He then told me that one of these
machines was still in operation in an arcade on the pier in Santa
Monica, California. That ended our first telephone conversation.
My next phone call to Mr. Williams occurred a little over a
year later, on April 2, 1979. I first asked Harry if he knew
which company first originated the "match feature". He replied
he thought it might have been United, or possibly Keeney,
remarking that Keeney designer Mel Binks was a good designer. He
then said that his ex-partner Sam Stern might remember, but that
he himself was not sure.
I then asked him if he remembered the pingames made by
Williams in the early 1950's, which had a "bingo format". He
replied he remembered them producing LONG BEACH (the only true
"bingo pinball" made by Williams). When I asked him about a
flipper game with a bingo format and a "circus motif", the
playfield for which my friend Rob Hawkins had found, he said he
did not remember it, again saying that Sam Stern might recall it.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finally found out, by looking at Mike Pacak's
old pinball brochures at Pinball Expo '87, that the game was
called STARLITE and was made in 1953. Other Williams
"flipper/bingo" games were DISK JOCKEY, FOUR CORNERS, and HONG
KONG, all made around that same time.)
Harry next related to me the story of him leaving his
Williams Manufacturing Company in 1959. He said the company was
bought in that year by the Consolidated Drug Company. He went on
to say that he and Sam Stern had been partners in Williams since
1947. He told me that Consolidated let the partners opt for
either cash or stock in the company. Harry said he took the
cash, but Sam decided to take stock instead. He went on to say
that Sam later regained control of Williams for a short time, but
finally sold the company to Seeburg in 1963.
I next asked Mr. Williams if he remembered who originated
the "pop bumper". He replied he thought it was Exhibit Supply.
When I told him about the 1938 Stoner game, ZETA, I had when I
was a kid, and that it had a "spring type" pop bumper in the
center of it's circular playfield, he said he remembered that
game and that it could have been the first use of such a device.
I then asked him if the Exhibit games made just prior to the
war were the first games to use "eject holes"? Harry quickly
reminded me that his 1934 pioneer electric action game, CONTACT,
was the first to use such a device. He also said that CONTACT
was an early game having a "ball return", referring to it's
"Contact Hole", I suppose.
He then went on to say that some other games in the mid
Thirties had various forms of "kickout holes", but that the
invention of the "bumper" By Bally in late 1936 caused this type
of feature to virtually drop out of sight (bumpers becoming the
rage) until the Exhibit games that I had mentioned.
The last thing that Harry mentioned during this conversation
was that he had recently attended a special showing of the new
Brooke shields movie, "Tilt", the idea being that the producers
wanted him, the inventor of the "tilt", to endorse the film. He
said that the film wasn't too bad but that it's portrayal of
'pinball hustling' "certainly could not help the image of the
industry". He ended by saying that the movie was somewhat boring
to him and that he hoped it would not be very popular and didn't
think it would be. Well, we never really had a chance to find
out since the film was never really released to theaters, but
several years later made limited appearances on cable and regular
The next telephone call to Mr. Williams took place on July
2, 1979. I first asked him which games produced by his Automatic
Amusements Co. in the 1930's were also produced by Bally (he had
told me during my original visit with him that he let Bally
produce some of his designs for Eastern and Mid-Western markets,
while retaining the West Coast for Automatic Amusements). He
replied that ACTION and SIGNAL in 1934 were the only ones.
I next read to him a list of Automatic Amusement games I had
and asked him if it sounded complete. He replied that he also
designed two games which were not on that list, namely CHEVRON
and KNOCKOUT, both from 1935. He then told me about a game
called MULTIPLE which he said he designed for Bally, in which a
ball landing in a hole at the top of the playfield caused the
values of other scoring holes to increase, as indicated in small
"windows" located above those holes.
Harry next told me about his career after leaving California
to go to Chicago in the mid Thirties. He said he went to work
for Dave Rockola in 1935 and stayed there until sometime in 1937.
He said while working there he met young designer Lyndon (Lyn)
Durrant and that they became good friends. He then said that
they both left Rockola in 1937 and went to Bally where they
worked for a short time because, he said, they "did not like the
conditions there". Harry then said that he and Lyn went over to
Exhibit Supply in 1938, and that that company was nearly bankrupt
at the time. He went on to say however that Exhibit became one
of the leaders of the industry by the early 1940's. He then
remarked that at that time even Gottlieb copied some of Exhibit's
The last part of our conversation dealt with the beginnings
of United Manufacturing during the war years. Harry said that he
and Lyn left Exhibit and formed United just before we got into
the war. He said he left United probably in late 1942 after they
had produced 5 or 6 "conversion" games, starting his Williams
Manufacturing (the forerunner of the current Williams
Electronics) sometime in 1943.
He said that United's "conversions", unlike those from most
of the other outfits producing such games during the war, had
entirely new playfields. He went on to say that all the parts
from the old games, from which these "conversions" were made,
were dis-assembled, cleaned, and sometimes replated. He then
said that the only wood used from the old games was the cabinets
Finally, I again mentioned that upright style Williams
conversion game, ZINGO, owned by a friend of mine. He said he
remembered that he made one mistake in the design of that game,
that of putting a "slope" to it's playfield (instead of being
perfectly vertical) because, he said, it made it more difficult
for the player to shoot the ball with any velocity.
This concludes my discussion of our first three phone
conversations. Next time I will continue to describe later
THE HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS (PART 2)
Last time I described the first three telephone
conversations I had with late pinball pioneer Harry Williams.
This time I will relate information he passed on to me during two
additional phone calls.
The next time I talked to Harry was April 29, 1980. We
first talked about two games produced by Exhibit Supply in the
1930's, both of which were named LIGHTNING. Harry told me that
the first LIGHTNING, which came out in 1934, was patterned after
his pioneer "electric action" pingame CONTACT.
He said he sketched out the design of this game and made it
such that it was not an exact copy of CONTACT. He then told me
that Exhibit produced the game under a license agreement with
Fred McClellen who's Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. was producing
I then asked him if he remembered a later Exhibit game with
the same name which I had recently purchased. He said he
remembered he and Lyn Durrant designing a game by that name when
they worked for Exhibit, but did not remember much about it.
When I told him that the game had "electro-magnets" under the
playfield which caused the ball to move in unusual ways, he said
that he remembered a game he designed called BUTTONS which used
that idea, and thought that LIGHTNING may have come after that.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: According to the information I currently have,
LIGHTNING was first advertised in Billboard magazine in august of
1938, with BUTTONS being advertised several months later in
Harry then said he remembered that principle being used in
conjunction with rubber rebounds such that the ball would "bounce
back and forth over a scoring button to add up score". He called
that idea an "adder-upper", and said he thought it was
automatically disabled when the "1000 scoring unit" was advanced.
He did not however say on what game that idea was used. In a
final remark regarding LIGHTNING he said he remembered it having
a short scoreboard attached to the playfield and said that stoner
had originated that cabinet style with their 1937 game ricochet.
I next asked Harry about the "free play" idea which had been
originated by his young shop assistant in the early 1930's, bill
Bellah. He said Bellah's device was mostly mechanical, and not
the electrical device used for years utilizing a solenoid mounted
beneath the coin chute (Harry remarking that he himself came up
with that idea later on).
He said Bellah's invention used a metal drum, mounted near
the front of the playfield, which had numbers on it (showing
through a small window) indicating the number of "free play
credits". He went on to say that this unit was mechanically
linked to the coin chute to allow it to be pushed in without
using a coin as long as credits were indicated. He said,
however, that the drum was advanced, when replays were earned, by
an electric solenoid.
Harry then went on to say that he believed that the first
game to employ this device was made by Keeney, but he could not
remember it's name. He said it was then used by Rockola on a
game that he believed was called FLASH. Harry then said he
remembered that game as having two indicating type counters, one
for "replays" and the other to indicate a "winning number". He
said that the "winning number" would start out as "1", and if the
ball went into the number "1" hole, a replay would be scored and
the "winning number" advanced to "2", etc. He remarked that in
this way one replay was scored for each consecutive numbered hole
into which balls landed. He again emphasized that the "free-
play" Counter was mechanically linked to the coin chute.
The rest of this phone conversation dealt with Harry's
current design efforts. He said that Stern Electronics was
trying to standardize on a longer playfield (23 7/8" by 46") as
was used in their game BIG GAME. The last thing he told me was
that he was currently working on a new game which he said would
probably be called (of all things) LIGHTNING!
My next phone call to Harry, which occurred on march 24,
1982, dealt mainly with things that coin machine historian Dick
Bueschel wanted me to ask him about.
I first asked him if he remembered a game designer in the
1930's named Bon McDougal (who Dick had heard about as having
been rumored to be the actual designer of CONTACT). Harry said
that he had known Bon, and that he did once work for Pacific
Amusements (PAMCO), but that he started with the company at about
the same time as he himself left, which was at the time of
release of his last PAMCO design, MAJOR LEAGUE in late 1934. He
said he thought Bon was responsible for the design of a series of
5 Pamco games, referred to as "the quintuplets", the names of
which he could not remember. Finally he remarked that Bon was
better known as a "wing walker" than a pinball designer.
Harry then asked me if I had ever found one of his CONTACT
games. When I told him I now owned one he asked if I would send
him pictures of it, which I later did. He then asked which size
game I had, and when I told him I had the "Junior" size (24" x
44") he told me that he made those in his own shop because Fred
McClellen did not want to make that size in his. He then
remarked that the idea of making a model of that size came from
Los Angeles May Company department store.
I next asked Harry if he remembered a game, supposedly made
by Exhibit, which had balls in the backboard (Dick Bueschel had
found a patent for that game and wanted to know if it had ever
been produced). Harry said he vaguely remembered the game, but
not it's name. He then said he remembered he and Lyn Durrant
working on it, but thought it may have only been a "prototype"
and never released. He went on to say that many games never got
past that stage.
When I read him the names on the patent (Eugene Kramer,
Percy Shields, and Milton Gitelson) he said he had heard of
Kramer, had never heard of Gitelson, but had known Percy Shields
very well. In fact, he said, Mr. Shields once worked for him in
his shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.
While we were on the subject of "prototypes" Harry mentioned
a "puck" game he once designed at Williams. He said it was
called FLYING DUCKS which was build as a prototype only and never
went into production. He also said that at the present time
Stern Electronics had a game called CUE which never got past the
I next asked Harry about another early game designer, Ken
Shyvers from Seattle, whom Dick Bueschel was interested in
finding out about. He said that Ken was a very good designer,
and that he designed the first "score totalizer" in conjunction
with Lyn Durrant around 1936. (When I later told Dick Bueschel
about this he told me he had the patent for it!) Harry went on
to say that Ken also designed CANNON FIRE for Mills and then
remarked that Ken sold his designs on a royalty basis.
When I asked Harry if he had any pingames at home he replied
he had two. One was a home game he designed for Brunswick, and
the other SPLIT SECOND which he designed for Stern.
I next told him about Dick Bueschel interviewing the son of
Earl Froom, one of the designers of the pioneer pingame WHIFFLE.
Harry said that he had always wondered if WHIFFLE was the "first
pingame". I then told him about Mr. Froom having a copy of an
advertising film his father had made for WHIFFLE. Harry said
that he thought that was very interesting and would like to see
it someday. He then remarked that he had the capability of
"converting" 16mm films to video tape.
The final topic of this phone conversation concerned the
Stoner Company. I told Harry that I had just acquired a very
nice 1938 stoner pin called ELECTRO. He then told me that Ted
Stoner was a "wood worker" and had a lot of wood-working
equipment in his plant but did not have a router. He went on to
say that Stoner had been given a contract to make prototypes for
CONTACT. Harry said that he visited the Stoner plant at that
time and saw they were drilling the holes. He said he got them a
router but found out that they were still locating the hole
positions "by hand". He then said that he once said to Ted
Stoner "no wonder you talk about your 'custom aristocrat line'".
Harry then told me that Stoner made 750 CONTACT prototypes.
This will conclude this installment of my detailing of my
phone conversations with Harry Williams. The present article may
seem somewhat short, but next time I will relate the phone call
which dealt primarily with Harry's famous pioneer pingame,
CONTACT. In that same article I will conclude this series with
the final bits of information I received from Harry during our
last telephone conversation before his untimely death. Most of
that conversation, however, contained "repeats" of things that he
had discussed during earlier conversations.
HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS - THE FINAL CHAPTER
The last two telephone conversations I had with Harry
Williams were both in 1982. The first of these was on April 7.
I phoned Harry on that day to ask questions regarding his famous
pioneer pingame - CONTACT. Before making the call I had prepared
a list of questions to ask him regarding that subject.
I first asked Harry if he had designed any games before
CONTACT. He told me that he started in pingame design designing
"replacement boards" (new playfields which could be substituted
on an existing game) to be used on Mills' OFFICIAL. He said he
did not put any names on these boards and that he sold them for
$5 each. He went on to say that this gave him experience in
determining the proper placement of the holes, pins, etc, on
playfields. He then said that those playfields were "custom
Harry then told me that the first complete game he designed
was called ADVANCE and that it was "entirely mechanical". He
said that he sold it to Seeburg. He said that this game was the
first to use his now famous "tilt" mechanism, and also the first
pingame to have a "visible coin chute".
I next asked him about Fred McClellan and how he to into the
pinball business, and about his Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co.
(PAMCO). He said that Fred was originally a carburetor
manufacturer and then decided to get into the games business. He
then said that Fred started by selling two large pingames
(MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN) which were actually made by a
cabinet company, Fred acting as a "jobber" for the games.
I then asked Harry how he came up with the idea for the
first "electric action" pingame, CONTACT. He told me that around
that time he was running low on cash, receiving very little
royalties from Seeburg for ADVANCE. He said he knew he needed a
new idea to make some money. He then told me that he went to
seek advice from a Christian Science practitioner who told him
that his worries were "blocking his mind" and advised him to
relay and meditate.
He went on to say that he took this advice and one day,
while relaxing on a park bench, he all of a sudden got the idea
for CONTACT. He said he quickly made a sketch of his idea on a
large pad of green paper which he carried with him. Harry said
that his new design required electric solenoids, and he wondered
where he could obtain them. Then, as luck would have it, he
discovered that there was a shop next door to his small shop
which made just the items he needed.
Harry then said that he built a model of his new game and
showed it to Fred McClellan, whom he had heard about because of
his selling of MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN. He said Fred
thought the "electric action" was a great idea and wanted to buy
the rights to it, and have the cabinet shop who had build his
previous games build it. Harry said that he convinced Fred to do
his own manufacturing rather than sub-contracting it to someone
else. Fred agreed.
Harry went on to say that he actually made the "Junior" size
in his small shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, with the other
models being made in Fred's shop on Hope St. Later he said Fred
opened a plant in Chicago and also had a sales office in Portland
Oregon. He went on to say that CONTACT was produced for almost
one year (an extremely long production run for any pingame, past
or present) and he estimated that between 28 and 33 thousand
games were actually manufactured. This, of course, included all
four sizes of the game.
I then asked Harry about the use of his "tilt" and bells on
CONTACT. He said the first models had neither attachment, but
that both were added somewhere during the first 100 games
produced. He then said that later models used an electric "pull-
chain" tilt mechanism he designed, having an indicator on the
playfield which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT". This
incidentally, was the forerunner of the still current "plumb bob"
Finally I asked about the four models of CONTACT and their
prices. He replied that the large model, SENIOR, which was 5
feet long, sold for $100 and that the "standard size" JUNIOR
model sold for $75. Regarding the small "BABY" model, Harry said
that the idea for making a small version of CONTACT came from Los
Angeles' Bullocks Department Store. He said they wanted a "home
model" to sell, and that they produced the BABY in both a coin-op
and a non coin-op model for home use.
(NOTE: You may recall from one of my earlier phone conversations
with Harry that he said it was the May Company Department Store.
Well, his memory might have been a little hazy but at least it
appears that one of the large Los Angeles department stores gave
Harry the idea for his BABY model of CONTACT.)
That ended my conversation with Harry on that day. The
information I obtained during that phone call was used as the
basis for an article I wrote for the Summer 1982 issue of Pinball
Collectors' Quarterly entitled "CONTACT;, Pinball
The last phone conversation I had with Mr. Williams, before
his untimely death in September 1983, took place on Sept. 14,
We first again talked about the two games called LIGHTNING
with which Harry had been involved. He said that right after
CONTACT came out Fred McClellan sold rights to Exhibit Supply to
make a "copy" of CONTACT (which they called LIGHTNING) for a
royalty of $1 per game. When Harry found out about this he said
he told Fred that he was "crazy" since he paid Harry $3 per game
to put out CONTACT.
Harry went on to say that he suggested to Exhibit that they
make some changes to the playfield of LIGHTNING so it wouldn't be
exactly the same as CONTACT. He then said that he offered to do
that for them, and that Exhibit agreed.
I then asked Harry if he remembered getting a patent on
CONTACT, or the game he later designed for Exhibit called
BUTTONS, both of which Dick Bueschel had a copy of. He said he
did not remember having a copy of either patent.
I again asked him if he remembered that 1938 Exhibit game
(which I used to own) which was also named LIGHTNING. That game
had electro-magnets under the playfield which caused the ball to
do all sorts of crazy antics, just like was used on BUTTONS. He
said he couldn't remember that LIGHTNING particularly. When I
then asked him if LIGHTNING could have been a "prototype" for
BUTTONS, he said he didn't know.
The rest of this final phone conversation dealt with Harry's
current involvement in the games business. Harry said he had
designed a "pin-vid" (combination pinball and video game) and
sold it to Gottlieb. He said he thought that they might call it
either "THE CUBE" or "PAPARAZI". He then said that the video
part of the game used a "Rubick's Cube" motif.
Harry then explained that this game had a pinball playfield
in a video cabinet and used mirrors. He then said that the
pinball and video play of the game was "fully integrated". He
also told me that both Bally and Williams showed interest in his
game, but that Gottlieb could use it's existing CAVEMAN tooling
to produce it.
Finally, Harry said that he thought there was great
potential in videos. He then said that he was currently
designing video games for Stern Electronics, and also for a
Japanese company which he did not name.
Well, there you have it, a run-down of my memorable visit
with pinball pioneer Harry Williams in 1978, and the subsequent
telephone conversations I had with him during the next four
years. As I said at the start, there were many times during my
talks with this fine gentleman that it seemed that he was having
trouble remembering things correctly, but other times his
recollections seemed "crystal clear". At any rate, being able to
talk with him on so many occasions was certainly one of the most
enjoyable experiences of my life! Anyway, it's something I'll