THE FIRST PINBALL BOOK?
THE HAWKINS THESIS
by Russ Jensen
(NOTE: Most of the illustrations in this article are not from the original
thesis, but are actual photos of the pingames talked about, rather than
copies of advertisements for the games)
What was the first book on the subject of pinball machines? Many pin-
fans would tell you it was "The Illustrated History of Pinball" by Canadian
author Michael Colmer which was published in 1976 (there was a company
produced booklet called "Coin Operated Amusement" by Bally advertising
manager Herb Jones - which contained a section on pinball and it's history -
put out around 1972, but that was really not a "book" and was put out by
Bally to try to sell their products to the Italians). Around the same time
as Colmer was released, a college thesis was compiled in Los Angeles and
could possibly be regarded as "the first pinball book".
Which actually came out first (the thesis or Colmer's book) I am not
certain, but at any rate I believe the thesis was certainly a "pioneer work"
on pinball. The thesis, titled "History of The Pinball Machine", was written
by Robert LeBrun Hawkins, and published in August 1976 in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for a Master of Arts degree in Industrial Studies at
California State University, Los Angeles. I will attempt to describe in some
detail the contents of this document which represent an early attempt at
describing the early historical background of this fascinating amusement
Before I begin describing this scholarly work I believe a few words are
in order concerning how I heard about the thesis, got acquainted with it's
author, and subsequently obtained a personal copy of the document. I began
collecting pinball machines in the mid-1970's, and by the later part of that
decade was really "getting into it". Among the acquaintances I had made at
that time was a young coin machine collector named Dave Makekran. One time
while talking with him on the telephone he just happened to mention that an
old high school buddy of his had published a thesis on the history of
pinball. He told me his friend's name was Rob Hawkins and gave me his phone
number in Los Angeles.
That news really excited me and I called Rob almost immediately. He
told me yes, he had written such a thesis and gave me all the particulars.
I next called my good friend Ron Tyler who was a professor at another
university (and also a pinball fan) and asked him if he could help in getting
a copy of Rob's thesis? Through his university library Ron was able to
borrow a copy of the thesis and we embarked on a project of copying it.
I took the borrowed copy to a local copy shop (in fact it took about
three visits) and carefully made two copies of it's over 200 pages (one copy
for me and one for Ron). The only problem was that the "second generation"
copies of the illustrations didn't come out too well. Well, when I called
Rob Hawkins and told him about that he graciously agreed to loan me his
"original" illustrations to copy. That was much better!
The final step was to have the whole thing bound. Well, Ron Tyler was
able, through his university, to have both copies professionally bound, along
with other theses from his university. The final product looked like a real
hard-bound book (gold embossed title on the binding, etc.)! And that's how
I (and Ron too) got a copy of what might be called "the world's first pinball
After that Rob Hawkins and I became good friends (and still are).
Shortly afterwards Rob met (actually it was through me) another young man,
Don Mueting, who was trying to compile a listing of all the pinball machines
ever made. The two of them (with help from others - including myself)
eventually published a small book in 1979 titled "Pinball Reference Guide"
which contained an alphabetical listing of over 2500 pingames (from the
1930's up to the date of publication) with reference to manufacturer, date of
release, and historical notes.
That was followed in 1992 by a much improved and expanded work called
"Pinball Collector's Resource" which is also out of print now, but Don and
Rob are even now working on a significant update to that work! Rob, by the
way, is a high school teacher, formerly teaching Industrial Arts, but now
mostly Computer Science courses, I believe. Now to the thesis!
Rob's thesis is divided into six chapters, an extensive Bibliography,
and three Appendices. I will now attempt to describe in some detail the
contents of these.
CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Rob began by remarking that over the centuries man has devised various
ways to amuse himself - ranging from "spontaneous inspirations" to
"elaborately planned extravaganzas". He went on to comment that due to the
Industrial Revolution man began utilizing his mechanical knowledge and new
forms of energy to construct amusement devices by the late 19th and early
20th Century, sometimes attaching coin activating devices to them producing
"coin-operated amusement devices".
After briefly describing an ancient Greek device which dispensed Holy
Water when a coin was inserted, he told how coin-controlled vending machines
flourished in modern times, adding that coin-operated "amusement devices"
were also used in carnivals, etc., during the early 1900's. After noting
that the longest lived coin-op amusement device was the "five ball pinball
machine", Rob said that the U.S. pinball industry has been "very volatile
over the years" due to many diverse factors. He then commented that there
had recently been a surge in the number of pingames in the Los Angeles area,
due to a recent change in the local law banning such games, then remarking
that there currently was a lack of published works on that area of the
At that point Rob began to state "the problem" he was trying to solve
with his thesis - "to produce a single comprehensive work related to the
history of the amusement device known as the pinball machine". He then
stated that it's purpose "was to compile pertinent date regarding the origin
and evolution of the pinball machine from it's inception in 1929 to it's
Rob then stated two limitations of his study: 1) the study would only
cover the "5-ball pinball machine" and exclude other similar games using
balls, and 2) the discussion of the "legal problems" faced by pinball would
be limited to the situations in Los Angeles and New York City.
A fairly extensive "Definition of Terms" section was next provided
describing the special terms used in the thesis. This was followed by the
definition of the "organization of the study", providing a brief description
of what was going to be presented in each chapter.
CHAPTER 2 - REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The chapter began with Rob telling how acquisition of his first pinball
game (Gottlieb's SITTIN' PRETTY - 1958) inspired him to search for
information on the history of that type of game. He then told of performing
several "library searches" which led to little except to a book on the
history of vending - but that did not mention coin-op games.
Next, Rob went on, he tried searching the "Reader's Guide to Periodical
Literature", which at first yielded little, but he finally discovered a
magazine article titled "Mother Was a Pinball Machine" which gave some
historical background information on pinball. He said he discovered from
this (for one thing) that pinball probably evolved from the early game called
"Bagatelle" - also discovering that the entertainment industry publication,
THE BILLBOARD, was a source of additional information on the game.
Further reference to Reader's Guide, Rob commented, led to additional
magazine articles. as well as expanding his "topic list" (which was contained
in an Appendix to the thesis) which allowed his literature search to be
expanded. He then commented that another reference work "The Business
Periodicals Index" led him to other articles as well.
At that point Rob talked about searching a reference called "Index to
Legal Periodicals" and finding numerous articles concerning legal problems
involving both pinballs and slot machines. He then quoted from one typical
article from "The North Carolina Law Review" titled "Gaming - Illegal Slot
Machines - 'Silent Salesmen'". Rob commented that "amusement as a 'thing of
value'" was "a battle often fought in the courts".
The subject of "trade journals" was next discussed as a source of
information regarding pingames. Two of the best, Billboard and The
Marketplace ("The Confidential Newsletter of the Industry") were then
described in detail. Following that, three other lesser sources were listed.
After briefly describing newspaper articles from both Los Angeles and
New York City, as sources of information for the thesis, the chapter ended
with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 3 - THE BACKGROUND AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE PINBALL MACHINE
Rob began the chapter with a section called "Linking Pinball to the
Past". He began that section by telling of one author who said that the
origins of pinball were possibly linked to an early Greek game in which
stones were rolled up a hill trying to land them in holes dug there.
The more likely linking of pinball to the 19th Century game of Bagatelle
was next discussed (the linking of that game to stone rolling was even
mentioned, however) - it even being pointed out that some early pingames were
referred to as "bagatelles". The game of Bagatelle was described as "a game
played with balls and cues on a special table ... with consecutively numbered
holes ... with the highest numbers in the center."
A political cartoon was shown portraying Abraham Lincoln playing
Bagatelle. After describing a reference to that game in Dickens' "PIckwick
Papers", Rob provided a reference to a book describing Bagatelle in greater
detail, as well as a reference to a similar game called Tivoli.
That game was described as being very similar to early pinball games,
except that the ball was shoved with a stick, and it was not coin operated.
After a detailed description of that game, an illustration was shown. At
that point the similarities of these early games to pinball were stated.
Those included: 1) the semi-circular shape of the top arch, and 2) the board
contained numbered holes for the balls to land in for scoring.
Rob next related a story as to the origin of pinball from a 1935
Louisville, Kentucky newspaper regarding a man taking an old bagatelle board
and fixing it up for his childrens' Christmas gift. He then pointed out
certain 'flaws' in the story, and declared it to be "the product of the
journalist's imagination". After commenting how the definition of the term
"bagatelle" has varied somewhat over the years, a child's game (similar to
Bagatelle) called "Steeple Chase" was illustrated along with it's detailed
The next section of the chapter, "Early Pinball Machines", described in
detail the most well-known of the early pinball-like games, attempting to
answer the basic question "what was the first pinball game"?
The first game to be described was the counter-top turn-of-the-century
game called LOG CABIN, which Rob began by saying was "probably the earliest
machine to have similarities to the pinball machine of today". It was then
remarked that the estimates of it's date of production seem to vary between
as early as 1884 and as late as 1910.
Rob next quoted from a publication titled "Tilt" (which was a 'catalog'
for a traveling exposition of pinball and pinball art occurring in Canada in
1975) describing LOG CABIN as being made by pioneer coin machine producers
Adolph and Arthur Caille in 1898. That article referred to it as "the first
prototype of the pinball machine".
The quoted article further described the game in some detail as "a plain
cast metal case covered by a glass plate shielding a playfield dotted with
holes representing scores and obstructed by metal pins". The play was then
described as "for a nickel a player shot a marble onto the field trying to
land in a high-scoring hole to win a prize". The author of that article
ended by remarking that the game was not widely distributed, not very
popular, and soon disappeared from the market.
Rob next told of another article (from a publication called Famous First
Facts) describing "the first pinball machine (toy)" as LOG TAVERN built in
1910 by the Caille brothers. Hawkins next speculated on whether the two
writers were referring to the same game with some of the facts being mixed
up, or if the second game was really a "toy" with s similar name?
At that point an article describing LOG CABIN by long-time coin machine
historian, writer, and publisher Bill Gersh was quoted from in detail. After
briefly describing the game, Bill stated that he had found a 'circular' for
the game in some old papers once given him by coin machine pioneer Tom
Watling, Watling having told him that LOG CABIN dated back to 1884! Bill
then remarked that the game was very similar to what he called "the very
first counter pinball" BINGO built by Leo Berman in 1930. He then compared
various features of LOG CABIN with those of other pingames of the early
At that point Rob began discussing the BINGO game, first telling of
another article by Bill Gersh in which he implied that LOG CABIN and the Leo
Berman BINGO were "for all intents and purposes, duplicates" - also remarking
that the play action and scoring on both machines were the same. Rob then
commented that "in the search for the first pingame the question to be
answered is not the machine's links to earlier similar types of games, but
more importantly, who originally manufactured the game in question; and more
importantly yet, when it was first produced, patented, or advertised".
Information was then presented covering several versions of the "BINGO
game", including a copyright infringement suit brought and won by Dave
Gottlieb of D. Gottlieb and Co. After pointing out that to date no patent or
copyright information has been found to confirm Gottlieb's allegations, it
was stated that D. Gottlieb and Co. advertised their BINGO BALL game in
Billboard Magazine in October 1931. Illustrations were provided of versions
of that game by Gottlieb, a company calling itself "Bingo Mfg. Co.", and
another outfit called Field Manufacturing.
The discussion of "BINGO" ended with an excerpt from an April 1932 issue
of Billboard which said a patent for a game employing most of the features of
"BINGO" was issued to a Nathan Robin of Chicago in early 1932. It was then
commented that no mention of that person had appeared in any other article
and it was not even stated with which (if any) company Mr. Robin was
The story of another "early pingame", THE WHOOPEE GAME, was then related
in the next section of the chapter. Rob began with the most widely quoted
story of that game. An advertising solicitor, John Sloan, of Billboard was
said to have discovered the idea for that game in early 1929 when he saw a
device fashioned by the janitor of his apartment building from an old
Bagatelle board for the amusement of his friends.
Upon describing this device to one of his Chicago carnival equipment
manufacturer customers, The Indoor and Outdoor Games Co., they decided to
manufacture the game with a five-cent coin mechanism added and released it in
1930 as THE WHOOPEE GAME. The game was said to be 48 inches long, mounted on
legs, and sold for the whopping price at that time of $175!
A conflicting version of that story (although with many similarities)
was then quoted which appeared as a "Fifteen Years Ago This Week" article in
Billboard in June 1949. That article began by saying that "the mystery man
in the origin of the modern pingame" had been discovered. It then said that
"one of the contenders for 'the first coin pin game' was the WHIFFLE GAME
made in Youngstown Ohio by Indoor and Outdoor Games Co. managed by the Burns
The quoted article ended by saying that the game they produced had an
"old bagatelle pin arrangement", and when it was displayed in a Chicago hotel
an advertising man named John Sloan suggested they attach a coin mechanism to
it. It then said the resulting game was called WHIFFLE, was copyrighted in
1929, and first advertised in Billboard in March 1931.
Rob then pointed out that that article had been taken from an article,
originally published in Billboard in 1930, and that "serious errors" occurred
in the "translation". The original article was then quoted from.
It said that there was an idea floating around the industry that the
first "modern pin game" was the WHIFFLE GAME made in Youngstown, Ohio. It
was said, however, that a Chicagoan, Jack Sloan, claims that the very first
coin-operated pin-table was WHOOPEE made my Indoor and Outdoor Games Co.,
managed by the Burns Brothers.
After saying he is the "mystery man" everybody has been looking for,
Jack is quoted as telling the story in which the Burns Brothers made some
"tables with the old-time bagatelle game arrangement in hopes of reviving an
old game". Sloan then said that when he saw some of those games displayed in
a downtown Chicago hotel, he suggested to the brothers that they attach a
coin chute and "get into the coin machine business". The article ended by
saying that the WHOOPEE GAME was the result, being copyrighted in 1929 and
first advertised in Billboard on March 28, 1931
After remarking that that article "clears the air somewhat" (and adding
that other articles closely parallel the facts presented in it), Rob
presented an excerpt from a "final reference" on the subject. He then quoted
from an article, "Remember Way Back When" by a Jack Nelson which appeared in
a January 1936 issue of Billboard - the article dealing with Billboard
"advertising firsts" including things about slot machines, coin changers,
etc. Rob indicated that over half that article dealt with the WHOOPEE GAME.
The portion of that article quoted indicated that the original WHOOPEE
GAME advertisement was prepared in the middle of the night in a Chicago
shooting gallery owned by a Nick Burns. It was also stated that a
photographer had to be awakened to take a photo of the game. Rob then
commented that that article "ties up the loose ends of the WHOOPEE GAME
legend", bringing together that game, the Indoor and Outdoor Games Co. of
Chicago, and Nick Burns. He then commented "WHOOPEE was first"!
Rob next stated that he could find no further information, patents,
etc., regarding WHIFFLE, and as a result of the facts mentioned above several
assumptions can be made, namely: 1) the first pinball game was some form of
a "bagatelle board", and 2) the conversion utilized "the traditional scoring
objectives of Bagatelle" (holes in a plane surface with score value labels
next to each).
Rob ended that section of the chapter with the following comments. He
said that there were "three historic innovations" added to the Bagatelle
idea. First, the plane surface was slightly tilted (the balls rolling
towards the bottom). Secondly, the scoring holes were partially surrounded
with "hedges of brass nails", thus increasing the skill required by the
player. And lastly, the balls were shot onto the field using a "spring-
loaded plunger" (similar to what is still used today) and not by a cue stick
as in Bagatelle.
Rob's final comment on the subject of WHOOPEE was that "the first
documented pinball game quickly faded from the amusement machine field" Rob
then attributed this to two factors: it's large size (too large for many
locations), and it's high price of $175 for that Depression era.
The next section of the chapter was titled "One Cent Success". It began
by saying that in 1930 David Gottlieb, who had been operating a string of
coin-op strength testers in Texas, decided "to provide the nation with a
newer form of pinball entertainment". And after winning his court case over
Leo Berman regarding his BINGO BALL game, Dave decided to improve that game,
coming up with a 'tabloid size', walnut-boxed game called BAFFLE BALL.
Rob then remarked that BAFFLE BALL used many of the same elements as
it's predecessor, but the difference was that it was the first such game to
be mass marketed and nationally advertised! He then commented that BAFFLE
BALL was "the first game to reach large numbers of depression-haggard
Americans." He went on to say that because of the pressures of the time, all
were eager to escape their woes and exchange one cent for the fun of shooting
After saying that BAFFLE BALL "took America by storm" (50,000 being sold
at $17.50 in less than a year) Rob commented that this was primarily for two
reasons. First, it was cheap to play, and second the cost of the machine was
low and operators could afford to buy it.
Rob next commented "competition quickly erupted" telling how in late
1931 Raymond T. Maloney convinced his partners in a small Chicago print shop
"to join him in a bold adventure". This resulted in the production of a
counter-top pingame called BALLYHOO - the name coming from a satire magazine
of the period. Rob then said that at first those games were produced for
them by Gottlieb, but when 50,000 were sold in seven months Maloney
incorporated Bally Manufacturing (named for the game) to produce them. He
then added that Bally sold the game for $16.50 to compete with Gottlieb's
An April 1932 article describing BALLYHOO's success was then quoted
from. The article began by saying that since automatic games have "taken a
place in the amusement world, attention should be given to the use of
showmanship in their marketing". It then cited BALLYHOO as a good example of
that, remarking that the game itself had "flash and ballyhoo". Rob then
commented that the success of BAFFLE BALL and BALLYHOO in 1931 and early 1932
started "what was to become 'the first pinball craze'". This in turn, he
went on, spawned a "boom" in the coin machine business while other businesses
were going "bust".
It was then remarked by Rob that coin machines had been around for
decades (maybe centuries) with vending machines somewhat commonly known since
around 1822; but, he said, there was no "skill" involved in operating them.
Pingames, he then commented, gave their users a chance to use their skill by
skillfully ejecting the ball onto the playfield using the plunger, and then
nudging it around the field to get it into the highest scoring holes. Also,
he then added, these games offered their players "the thrill of success", as
well as sometimes being able to win money, merchandise, or free games.
Rob then commented that pinball machines "became a windfall of copper
and nickel" for their owners, saying that games like BAFFLE BALL and BALLYHOO
usually paid back their under $20 cost in the first week of operation. He
then said that although pennies are considered a "nuisance" today, impossible
as it may be to believe, "fortunes" were made from them by the early pinball
operators, adding that those "coin-operated Bagatelle boards" were to the
1930's what fast food franchises were to the 1960's.
An editorial article written by a Billboard coin machine editor who
called himself "Silver Sam" was next quoted from, telling what he thought
about the future of the amusement machine field after attending the March
1932 coin machine convention. Sam was said to have remarked that the
convention "indicated clearly that the coin machine trade was predominantly
amusement machine minded" and also that "pingames were far in the lead". He
then attributed the success of the new pingames to four factors: action,
suspense, skill, and flash.
Rob next commented that the success of games like BAFFLE BALL and
BALLYHOO could also be attributed to other factors. First, he said, was
their low price - a minimum investment allowing almost anyone to "re-enter
the world of work" during the Depression. Next, he said their small size
allowed them to be placed on counters in various retail establishments -
their size also making them easy to transport. Finally, he commented that
they were mechanically rather simple and required little skill to maintain.
Due to these factors, Rob went on, it can be seen why those devices were
so successful during the Depression. And because of that success, a large
variety of pingames began to appear on the market in the early years of that
decade. He then said that by the beginning of 1932 the number of
advertisements in Billboard for those types of games was often in the
twenties or thirties! Rob then briefly mentioned several of those early
pingames (SKILL-O, JOSTLE, VARIETY, HI-BALL, and LUCKY STAR) also providing
full-page illustrations of their advertisements.
The last part of the chapter told of some of the typical locations where
those early pingames could be found. These included: roadside stands, bus
and rail depots, gas stations, cafes, drug stores, tobacco stores, and barber
After commenting that "the competition between these early games soon
became stiff", Rob said that to stimulate play, operators and location
owners started offering prizes (merchandise, cash, or free plays) to skillful
players. This, Rob ended by saying, led to the need for "anti-cheating
devices" which "stimulated the beginning of 'the decade of innovation'" - the
subject of the next chapter. The chapter then ended with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 4 - A DECADE OF INNOVATION: 1931-1941
(NOTE: This chapter contained 120 of the slightly over 250 pages of the
thesis. This is not too surprising, however, as it mainly contained
descriptions of the electro-mechanical devices used in pingames - and, after
all, the thesis was presented toward a degree in Industrial Arts.)
The first "innovation" to be discussed in this chapter was "the
mechanical tilt". Rob began by remarking "the very term ('tilt') brings a
grimace of frustration to the face of any pinball player, even today" He
then added that the term was descriptive of the game being raised off the
counter and "tilted" in order to try and control the movement of the ball.
After commenting that the first tilt mechanisms were simple devices that
worked on gravity, Rob said that some were simple arrows under the glass
which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT" when the game was "disturbed by the
player". He then described two early types of tilt mechanisms, both
utilizing small metal balls.
The first (and I believe the most common) type of tilt mechanism
described consisted of a small hemispherical "well" located on the lower end
of the playfield which, had a small metal rod protruding into it at it's
center, and containing a small steel ball of a larger diameter than the rod.
At the start of a game the rod would be lowered so that it's concave upper
end was at the extreme bottom of the hemispherical "well", and the ball would
seat itself on top of it due to gravity. When the game was ready for play,
the rod (with the ball atop) would rise up into the "well". If the game was
moved too much by the player during play, the ball would fall off the end of
the rod into the "well" giving a visual indication that the player had
The other mechanism described used the same general components, but in
a different (almost opposite) manner. The "well" in this case was at a
slight incline toward the player. At the start of a game the rod would push
the ball out of it's seat near the back of the "well" into the front area of
it, the rod then retracting below the hole at the back of the "well". If the
player moved the game too much during play, the ball would roll back into the
hole from which it had previously been dislodged thus indicating a "tilt".
Rob ended this discussion of mechanical tilts with several comments.
After telling how they were easily checked by the location people to see if
a player was eligible for any "prize" to be awarded for a good score, he
remarked that these mechanisms greatly increased the level of difficulty for
the player to achieve a winning game. Then, after remarking that those
mechanisms were often so sensitive that a slight motion of the game could
activate them, he ended by commenting that those devices were "in many cases,
effective; in most cases, simple; and in all cases, clever".
The next section of the chapter was titled "Early Scoring Innovations".
Rob began by telling how in the early pingames the only way of determining
your score was to visually check to see the score marked next to the holes in
which your balls landed, and adding them up in your head. He then commented
that that method could result in errors and often disputes among players
and/or the location owners. Rob then remarked that Bally was one of the
first manufacturers to attempt to overcome the "score tallying problem" with
their 1933 game AIRWAY, a detailed view of it's playfield being shown.
AIRWAY's score tallying method was then described.
It was then explained how each of the airplanes pictured on the
playfield had a "trap-door" protected scoring hole associated with it, each
marked with a score value. When a ball would enter one of these holes, it's
"trap door" would close, and the ball would move along an associated groove
beneath the field, eventually hitting a lever which uncovered a small
"panel" in a row at the bottom of the field showing the score associated with
the hole in which that ball had originally landed. When the game ended the
uncovered numbers shown in this row at the bottom of the field merely had to
be added up by the player or location owner to determine the score of that
Rob ended that section of the chapter by first remarking that those
early advancements (the "tilt" and "score tallying systems") were not
patented because the manufacturers felt "it was pointless to pursue a long
court action over a device that could become 'outdated' a month later". He
then said that the introduction of electricity to pingames a short time later
did indeed cause these early devices to become obsolete.
The next section of the chapter, titled "Bulbs, Bells, and Bumpers:
Electricity Comes to the Pins", discussed the introduction of electricity to
pingames. But before he began this technical discussion, Rob told a little
about the "pessimism" that seemed to persist regarding the future of pingames
in the early 1930's.
He began by remarking that (in the early 1930's) the onslaught of
counter-top machines caused concern within the industry that public interest
in these games would soon fade. Rob then quoted from two articles in
Billboard which expressed that type of opinion, one even suggesting that the
industry begin thinking of something to take the place of pingames in case
public interest fades.
The author of a 1972 Playboy article on pinball history was then quoted
as saying that Dave Gottlieb himself was pessimistic about the future of
pingames - also suggesting that the name of his popular 1932 pin FIVE STAR
FINAL was so named because Dave thought it might be his last! Rob then
stated that Mr. Gottlieb was not at all pessimistic about the future of pins,
and that "he stuck faithfully to amusement machines and had expressed openly
his faith in the lasting quality of the pin-game principle". Rob then
commented that FIVE STAR FINAL was possibly named for a movie of the same
name released about that time. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: It has also been said that
that game was most likely named for a popular edition of a Chicago
The next subsection of the chapter was titled "Battery Power". Rob
began by saying that in 1933 electricity was introduced into the pinball
industry, which "allowed several new dimensions to develop in the game". He
then said that the first source of such power in pingames came from the
"voltaic dry-cell battery", often using four in series to provide 24 volts.
Rob next pointed out that even though it was not until 1933 that
electricity began being used in pingames, it had been used in other amusement
machines as early as 1929. He then described several of the early electric
coin machines. Rob then began discussing two reasons why pins were so late
in starting to use electricity. First, he said, there appeared to be a
reluctance on the part of people in the amusement machine field to invest in
any new updated type of machine - wanting to see any new machine in operation
and to know "how much did it gross last season"? Secondly, he went on,
adding electricity to machines increased their cost which was an important
consideration for operators during the Depression.
The next sub-section of the chapter was headed "Electric Automatic
Payout", which referred to Bally's ROCKET which was released in September
1933. This machine, Rob commented, "attempted to alleviate the location
owner's responsibility of issuing prizes completely", by using electricity to
power an automatic payout mechanism to deliver coin awards automatically. He
then remarked that due to anti-gambling laws being passed in some states
around that time, such coin payouts made some games "illegal" and to get
around the law some machines were equipped with "token dispensers" in lieu of
coin payout mechanisms.
In the next sub-section, titled "Solenoids Provide Ball Action", Rob
began describing the use of the electric solenoid to add some "action" to the
ball - against the force of gravity. He then stated that the first game to
incorporate this feature was AMERICAN BEAUTY put out by a company called
Daval in June 1934. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Apparently Rob did not find any
information on Harry Williams' famous CONTACT which used solenoid action in
the early part of that year).
Rob then went on to describe in detail another early solenoid action
pingame, Bally's FLEET, also quoting from a Billboard article describing it.
He then commented that other similar games of the time also had "warlike
themes" mentioning RED ARROW and BIG BERTHA (both from June 1934). He then
said that other early solenoid action games of the time included: DROP KICK
(10/34), REBOUND (12/34), and MAJIK KEYS KICKER (10/34). Illustrations were
provided for several of those games.
After quoting from a Billboard article telling about Daval's BIG BERTHA,
Rob gave a little technical information regarding solenoids. He began by
describing them as utilizing an "electromagnet" (a coil of wire which
produces a magnetic field when an electric current is passed through it). He
then said that the solenoid actually consisted of "two main parts", the
electromagnet coil wound around a hollow cylinder, and a "plunger" consisting
of a spring-loaded iron rod inserted inside the cylinder.
When an electric current is passed through the coil, Rob then explained,
the magnetic field produced by the coil causes the plunger to be violently
pulled into the center of the coil. After the current is subsequently
removed, he then continued, the magnetic field collapses, and the spring
forces the plunger to return to it's normal position. Finally, he commented
that the motion of the plunger may either be rigged to mechanically pull or
push an object to which it is attached, or simply strike a surface such as a
ball or bell gong.
A brief subsection, titled "Electric Sound Effects", then told of early
uses of solenoids to create special sounds in games, such as the ringing of
a bell. Rob then started discussing electric illumination on pingames in a
sub-section titled "Electric Lights Illuminate Playfields".
He began by remarking that lighting was the next application of
electricity to pingames. Rob then began describing Bally's SKYSCRAPER which
came out in December 1934, which was also illustrated. He said that the
decorative theme of the game was a city at night, utilizing small electric
bulbs to illuminate the skyline and the windows of a "skyscraper" in the
enter of the playfield. Rob went on to explain that the lights were used in
conjunction with a "score totalizer", with various lit windows of the
building indicating certain scores. Rewards for skillful play, he then
commented, were based on the player's success in lighting certain parts of
As an aside to the story of SKYSCRAPER, Rob mentioned that it was
designed by a person "outside the industry", an E. J. Wohlfeld, president of
a "long established machinery house". He said that this person devoted the
better part of a year developing the game and had several pending patents on
certain game features.
The sub-section ended with Rob commenting that the idea of illumination
in pingames "caught on quickly", and by March 1935 many companies were
producing games with lighting features. He then listed a few of those which
had "light" incorporated in their names: LITE-A-LINE, ROTO-LITE, NEONTACT,
KLEVER-LITE, and CROSS-A-LITE - finally commenting that the lights resulted
in the games "drawing greater patronage then ever".
The next sub-section, "Battery Failure", told how the increased need for
electric power in pingames (for solenoids, lights, etc.) resulted in the
batteries they used having a shortened life. Rob remarked that to try to
increase battery life "mechanical timers" were employed in some games to shut
off the lights when the game was not being played.
A sub-section titled "Power Paks" described the eventual solution to the
battery problem. Rob told how by 1936 many games used a device known as a
"Powerpak" to provide the current to operate the game components previously
supplied by batteries. He then described these devices as being powered from
110 volt "house current" and containing a transformer to reduce the voltage
to lower voltages (usually 6 volts to operate lights and 24 volts for
solenoids, etc.). Rob then added the comment that "rectifiers" were used in
the Powerpaks to convert the 24 volts to D.C. (Direct Current) which was
required by most of the solenoids used in games at that time.
Rob next commented that the adoption of the Powerpak was greeted with
much enthusiasm, then quoting from an article in a trade publication of the
time praising them. An advertisement for a typical Powerpak was then shown.
A brief sub-section titled "Transformed" described how it wasn't long
before most game manufacturers decided that they could build their games
using A.C. rather than D.C. components. Rob remarked that this meant that
only a step-down transformer was required to power the games - the same type
of power, he said, has been used in pingames from the mid 1930's to the
The next sub-section, titled "Switching The Switches", began by Rob
remarking that various changes to electric pingames were made possible now
that transformers could provide "unlimited power" to the games. He then
briefly described the "simple switch" which was made up of two metal contacts
which pressed against each other when a ball in a hole, etc., pressed against
one of them - the contact resulting in "the closing of an electrical switch".
By 1935, Rob went on, "three elaborations of the switch appeared in
pinball machines" - the 'relay', the 'stepping switch', and the 'cam-
controlled switch'. He then began describing the 'relay'.
Rob commented that the relay "is one of the most common electrical
devices used in pinball machines" - adding that most average 30 or 40 of
them. He then described relays as being made up of several parts including
an electromagnet with an iron core, a "switch actuator", an armature, and a
number of switch contacts (which he described in detail).
After telling how more than one switch can be combined into a "switch
stack", Rob described the "switch actuator" which is made of an insulating
material and can cause the switch(es) to be opened or closed when the relay
coil is energized by an electric current. He next described how the actuator
is connected to the relay armature which actually moves it.
Rob then described the sequence of operation of a typical relay. He
said that when an electric circuit is completed in the game (providing
current through the relay coil) the resulting magnetic field attracts the
armature (overcoming the tension of a spring connected to it). The movement
of the armature, he went on, moves the "switch actuator" attached to it which
in turn moves the blades of the switches, thus completing or opening the
electrical circuits to which they are wired.
Finally, Rob said that the switches remain in that position until
current is subsequently removed from the coil. When that occurs, he said,
the spring attached to the armature returns it to it's original position, the
attached actuator returning the switches to theirs. He then summarized the
operation of the relay by saying that it is used to "take electrical current
(allowed to flow by the closing of one switch) and "relay" it to several
other circuits by causing additional switches to open or close". A typical
relay was then illustrated.
The next variation of the switch Rob discussed was the "Stepping Switch"
(the second most widely used active component in pingames) which he said was
composed of two major parts called the "contact plate" and the "wiper
assembly (or blade)". He then described these components in detail.
The "contact plate", Rob then said, was mainly constructed of an
insulation material, but also contained "conductive paths", arranged in
circular patterns, of either "copper runners" (similar to the conductors on
a printed circuit board) or copper rivets. He then told how the wires from
external game circuits were attached to them.
The "wiper assembly", Rob then continued, consisted of "a multi-armed
piece of copper, or other conduction material" connected at the center of the
contact plate. The arms, he continued, extended radially outward from the
center of the wiper assembly to the point where they contact the copper
runners (or rivets) on the "contact plate".
Rob next explained the actual operation of the unit, first saying that
the wiper assembly is usually rotated using either a solenoid or a motor. As
the wiper blades contact the copper runners or rivets, he went on, various
electrical circuits are completed and then broken. He next commented that
the wiper assembly is normally rotated in "steps", hence the name "Stepping
At that point Rob briefly mentioned the third "elaboration" of the
switch he had mentioned earlier - the "cam-controlled switch". He said that
that type of switch is opened and closed by having one of it's blades ride on
the edge of a notched metal disc. As the notched disc (cam) is rotated by a
motor, he went on, the switch(es) open or close by riding up on the raised
areas or down into the notched areas.
Concluding the sub-section on switches, Rob provided a couple
"sidelights" on the use of pingame components by the military during World
War II. He first told of an article on pingames appearing in a 1939 issue of
The Saturday Evening Post in which the author commented that switches
developed by the coin machine industry were used by the Navy to control
torpedo and anti-aircraft guns. Another article from the New York Times
mentioning "Uncle Sam's" use of pingame components was also quoted from.
The next sub-section of the chapter, titled "Pins Develop Bigger Backs",
began with Rob commenting that as the complexity of pingames increased in the
late 1930's so did the size of their cabinets. He then began describing in
general terms the physical changes in pingames during that decade.
In 1934, Rob began, pingames consisted of a rectangular box with glass
covering the playfield, some having simple legs, and a few having short
backboards which only indicated the name of the game. After the introduction
of solenoids, lights, etc., Rob went on, the inside of the playboard began to
become crowded. At first, he then remarked, part of the lighting and scoring
circuitry was moved into a small cabinet with a glass front replacing the
By 1936, Rob then commented, the first "illustrated" backglass was used
on a game called PEARL HARBOR - prior backboards being decorated only with
simple geometric patterns. He ended the discussion of backboards naming some
typical themes depicting "contemporary life" of the period including: CHICAGO
EXPRESS, TRAFFIC, FLYING TRAPEZE, and HOLLYWOOD.
The final sub-section describing advancements to pingames in the 1930's
was titled simply "Bumper". Rob began that discussion by commenting that
1937 was the year in which "the industry was bumped from it's momentary slump
in innovations". He then began describing what he called "a totally new
concept in the pinball industry" which was brought about by Bally
Up until that time, Rob remarked, playfields had mainly consisted of
scoring holes - balls landing in them remaining there until the next game was
started (or occasionally kicked into a higher scoring hole by a solenoid
activated kicker). In January 1937, he went on, Bally produced the first
"pinless", "pocketless" pingame which was called BUMPER.
Rob next described the new scoring device Bally introduced on that game.
He said the playfield of BUMPER was clustered with 12 posts each having a
coiled spring hanging vertically from it's center - adding that this device
itself was called a "bumper". He then said that each of these "bumpers"
could record the touch of a ball from any side of it.
Describing it's action in more detail, Rob told how when a ball struck
any point on the spring, it caused the lower end of it to close an electrical
contact which advanced the player's score. He then remarked that BUMPER had
several innovative features in addition to it's unique playfield arrangement
with it's bumpers.
The most important of these other innovations Rob said was a "totally
new method of recording the score". He then described this device as "a
clever stereopticon device" - employing an elaborate back-projected system
involving a lamp, an opaque disc with clear numbers which rotated each time
a ball hit a bumper, and lenses to project the score (in units of '10') onto
an opaque glass mounted in the game's backboard. He then commented that
BUMPER also employed an electrified tilt mechanism which indicated by a light
on the backglass if the game was "bumped too hard".
Rob then commented that the new electrical scoring system and the bumper
introduced on BUMPER were soon adopted by other manufacturers, and that the
success of this new idea caused some manufacturers to "refit" older games to
that system - even Bally "reissued" it's 1933 hit AIRWAY as a "bumper game".
The section of the chapter dealing with game innovations ended with some
comments from Rob concerning how the pinball industry was affected by them.
First he said these innovations made it possible for the industry to produce
"games which were more interesting and complex enough to sustain playtime
without the use of prizes and cash awards".
Rob then remarked that because many jurisdictions at that time were
passing laws outlawing pingames as "gambling devices", manufacturers began to
stress pinball play as a form of amusement. He ended by quoting from the
pinball history and art exhibition catalog TILT from 1975 in which he said
the author, Pat McCarthy, "summarized the period quite well".
The quote began by saying that in the mid-1930's pinball companies began
replacing "prizes" for skillful play by automatic awards of "free games" -
the locations soon discovering that this made the game more popular with
players than the more difficult prize awarding models.
The author of the article continued by remarking that even though more
people began playing for amusement, many operators still redeemed "free
games" for cash. This, he said, "aroused in officials an antagonism toward
pinball that persisted in many places to the present time". The quoted part
of the article ended with a comment that many companies who had previously
manufactured pingames began to "retire from the field" around that time -
resulting in one of the "periodic slumps", with many manufacturers beginning
to "diversify their operations".
That ended that section of the chapter - and will also end this part of
my description of the thesis. In a future article I will describe the rest
of the chapter, as well as the rest of the thesis. So stay tuned!
In a past issue of Coin Slot I described Rob Hawkins' thesis on the
history of pinball up through the middle of Chapter