by Russ Jensen
This is the third article of my series describing the
pingames in my collection. Before describing the actual game I
want to provide some historical background associated with the
The earliest pingames used one, and only one, scoring
device, the hole, into which a ball would fall and be counted
according to the score value with which it was marked. The only
'action' which these games possessed, other than the ball rolling
down the playfield by gravity, was the balls hitting metal pins,
with which early playfields were studded, and being deflected
slightly by them.
A little later games employing various mechanical devices,
such as Rockola's mechanical marvels WORLD SERIES and JIGSAW,
added a little more action to the playfield, but not much to the
ball itself. Then, late in 1933, Harry Williams revolutionized
pingame design with the introduction of the electric ball kicker,
the forerunner of the modern 'kickout hole'!
While the kickout hole itself did not achieve great
popularity until the Forties, Harry's idea of using electric
solenoids to provide playfield action did. Many games started to
appear with various electric kickers, often referred to as
'cannons' or 'guns' on their playfields. By 1936 these electric
action devices were all the rage in amusement pinball games.
All of a sudden, late in 1936, a second major revolution in
pingame design occurred, which almost overnight made electric
action games virtually obsolete for many years to come.
In December 1936 Bally first advertised their revolutionary
new game called BUMPER, which included a new type of scoring
device which was to become known 'generically' by the same name.
Bally's advertisement for this game heralded it as a "novelty
smash hit by Bally" and proclaimed in large letters "no pins, no
pockets" which was to set it apart from all previous games which
included holes ('pockets') as the primary scoring device, and a
playfield studded with 'pins' as ball deflecting devices.
Advertising for the game dramatically described the new
'action' of BUMPER which was really what made this new concept so
exciting to players. A ball traveling down a playfield could
literally bounce off of a bumper spring with much more motion
than if it were deflected by a simple pin.
A necessary adjunct to the bumper was another new device
introduced by Bally on BUMPER. This was the projector "score
totalizer" which indicated the player's score in the form of a
number projected on a frosted area of the game's backglass. This
became a fairly common method of pingame score indication for the
next several years, and a method of free-game display for many
This first form of bumper was very simple. It consisted of
a coil spring, the top end of which was supported by a metal top
mounted on a stud bolted to the playfield. The lower end of the
spring was bent straight down and protruded through the center of
a carbon ring embedded in the playfield. When the ball hit the
spring body of the bumper two things would happen.
The springiness of the spring would cause the ball to bounce
away from it providing the action, and the movement of the spring
caused its lower end to make contact with the carbon ring
surrounding it. This acted as an electrical switch, causing the
score, indicated by the projection "score totalizer", to be
incremented via electrical circuitry.
Bally had really 'scooped' the industry! They had brought
out a new scoring device, the bumper, which was to literally
change the face of pinball, and they also introduced a simple and
reliable score totalizer which was to become one of the two major
pinball score-keeping devices for the next several years.
Also, in 1933, Bally came out with a new type of pingame
which was to have a major impact on the pinball industry and
result in much legal controversy for many years to come. This
game was called ROCKET and it used electricity (from "dry cell"
batteries) to power a mechanism which paid out coins directly to
the player if he shot a ball into the proper holes on the
At that point pingame design began to split in two
directions, "payouts", and "novelty" games. Many manufacturers
including Bally, Gottlieb, Western Equipment and Supply, Keeney,
and the slot machine firms Mills and Jennings, began to put out a
good many payout pinballs in the Thirties, in addition to their
"novelty" games. Payout pinballs were indeed a big business in
Another important event occurred early in 1935 with the
introduction of "free games" to pinball design. In an effort to
come up with a way to award pinball players for their skill,
without direct payouts, a young man invented a new device whose
concept was to have a lasting effect of the pinball industry,
This man, as the story goes, was a young assistant to
pinball pioneer Harry Williams named Bill Belluh. The device he
invented and patented, and which Harry helped him perfect, was
the "free-play coin mechanism" which allowed a player, making a
certain high score in a game, to restart the game without
inserting a coin; thus awarding him with a "free game". This
idea was introduced in mid 1935 on Rockola's FLASH and then began
to appear on pingames by most manufacturers. "Free-game
pinballs" became the most common type of pingames from that time
on and are the only type generally in use today.
These new "free-play" pingames became a third class of
pinball game which could be operated legally in most territories
where "payouts" were strictly forbidden. These games gave the
players something to "shoot for", namely a "free game".
Now to SKIPPER. In early 1937 Bally came out with a game
called SKIPPER which was a new version of BUMPER. This game
combined the "bumper scoring" action of BUMPER with both a "free
play" and "payout" capability.
SKIPPER had a free game register (using a second projector
"totalizer") on the backboard which showed the player how many
"free games" he had accumulated. The player could either play
these games one by one as "replays" or, by pushing a button
hidden underneath the game's cabinet, cause the machine to
subtract his "free game" credits from the indicator and pay him
one coin for each credit by means of a payout mechanism which
would dispense coins into a "payout cup" located in a special
added section underneath the cabinet.
SKIPPER could thus be operated as a "payout" in "payout
territories" or as a "free play" machine (by disabling the payout
mechanism) in "free game territories". I also imagine that
SKIPPER was even occasionally operated in areas where payouts
were illegal, by paying out secretly using it's hidden mechanism.
Even though few games (SKIPPER may even have been the only
one) were made with both built-in payout and free game features,
the idea of installing a button underneath the cabinet for
subtracting free game credits became a standard feature on most
"free play" pinballs until the early fifties.
The copy of the advertisement shown here for SKIPPER, from
the February 20, 1937 issue of the trade publication "Automatic
Age", not only pictures that game, but shows it's 'cousin'
BUMPER. Another insert in the ad illustrates the fact that
SKIPPER came with an under-the-cabinet attachment which could be
removed when the game was used in territories where payouts were
not allowed. (The SKIPPER I own is missing this attachment, but
does have the internal payout mechanism.)
As to the play of the game, it was really quite simple - yet
somewhat revolutionary like BUMPER as I previously mentioned.
Any ball hitting one of it's many bumpers caused the score
projector totalizer on the left side of the backboard to be
incremented by 10 points.
If the player achieved a score of 300 points each additional
bumper hit would also give him a 'replay' by incrementing the
replay totalizer on the right-hand side of the backboard. After
the game was over the player could either play off these "free
games" one by one, or (if the game was so configured) opt to cash
them in in the form of a payout as described earlier.
Well, there you have it - a description of a unique pingame
of the mid 1930's. A game which not only included the
revolutionary pinball scoring device - the "bumper", but also
utilized the new idea of "free games" combined with an optional
direct coin payout capability. An interesting little game