by Russ Jensen


     One of the true pioneers of the coin machine industry, Mr.

Harry E. Williams, has succumbed to cancer at the age of 77.

Harry passed away on Sept. 11, 1983 at his home in Palm Springs,

California.  This is certainly a great loss to the world of coin

operated amusement.  Mr. Williams was a part of this great

industry for over fifty years, from the late 1920's until the

time of his death.


     Mr. Williams was a fine gentleman who loved coin operated

amusement devices.  Although he was primarily known in connection

with pinball, he also delved into other coin-op amusement

devices, even into video games in the past year or two.  Pete

Bilarczyk, publisher in the mid Seventies of the tabloid "Pinball

Wizzard News", once referred to Harry as "the father of pinball."

This title was not far from the truth when you consider his

achievements in the world of pinball, only a few of which I will

attempt to relate here.


     Harry was an inventor!  His inventions had a profound effect

on pinball.  Late in 1933 he invented the first "electric action"

device to be used on a pinball game.  It consisted  of a battery

operated electromagnet device which could dislodge a ball from

one hole in the playfield causing it to roll into another higher

scoring hole.  This was introduced on a game called CONTACT

manufactured by Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. of Los Angeles.

Almost immediately "electric action" was included in game after

game by many different manufacturers and, in one form or another,

has been used in pingames up through the present time.


     Probably the Williams invention most familiar to pinball

players throughout the years was the "anti-cheating" device

commonly know as "tilt."  In its earliest form it consisted of a

small steel ball which, at the start of each new game, was made

to rest on the top of a concave pedestal.  If, during the course

of a game, the player shook the cabinet too much the ball would

fall off its pedestal, providing a visual indication that the

player had "cheated."  Harry named his first such device "Stool

Pigeon", but soon changed the name to "Tilt.


"     A year or so later, when most games had become electric, a

new form of "tilt" was devised in which a metal "plumb bob" would

make electrical contact with a circular metal ring.  This contact

(through the use of an electrical "relay") would cause a lighted

sign on the game to light up the word "Tilt."  This form of

"tilt" has been used on pingames from the mid Thirties to the

present day.


      It is interesting to note that not only did Harry's

invention of the "tilt" have an effect on pinball, but also on

our language.  Most of us at one time or another have heard that

word used to denote some mildly unpleasant happening or surprize

upset.  It has been used in comics, cartoons, and other simple

entertainment devices, and by many in every day conversation.

Even though "Webster" doesn't seem to recognize it as yet, Harry

Williams has unconsciously affected our language.


     Although not the inventor himself, Harry played an important

role in the invention of the "free play" pinball.  This idea

helped to combat the negative image that pingames were gaining in

the early Thirties as gambling devices.  It seems a young man

named Bill Belluh, who worked as a shop assistant to Mr. Williams

in the early years, devised a method by which the attaining of a

high score could result in the player playing additional games

without depositing more coins.  These "free games" could take the

place of monetary or merchandise awards then given to many

pinball players as a reward for a high scoring game.  Even though

Harry did not directly invent this device, he helped Bill Belluh

perfect it, patent it, and get it installed on games such as

Rockola's FLASH in 1935.  Ever since that time "free games" have

been the primary "award" for pinball prowess.


     Harry was a designer, not only for his own companies, but

also for others.  In the very early Thirties pingames consisted

of a playfield with holes drilled in it for the balls to drop

into for scoring.  These games had a large number of "pins"

(nail-like devices protruding from the playfield to deflect the

ball during play), hence the name "pinball."  The "art" in

designing these early games consisted primarily in determining

where to strategically locate these pins making it difficult for

a player to obtain too high a score and often "beat the machine."

Harry became quite proficient at this art and designed some

"replacement boards" (new playfields used to convert an existing

game into a "new" one) as well as original games.


     Harry also had quite a flair for mechanical design.  He

designed many games in the early Thirties, such as ACTION, which

employed ingenious mechanical features.  Then, after his

introduction of "electric action" with CONTACT, he began

incorporating electricity into his designs.


     In addition to designing games for his own companies (more

about those later) Harry was, over the years, employed as a game

designer with other outfits.  Some of his early designs were for

Pacific Amusement of Los Angeles (CONTACT, etc).  In 1935 he

accepted an offer from Rockola and went to Chicago to become

their "chief inventor."   During his stay at Rockola he met a

young designer, Lyndon (Lyn) Durrant who was to affect his life

for years to come.


     After Rockola Harry went to Bally for a short time and again

ran into Lyn.  Within six months or so Harry went to Exhibit

Supply and Lyn came along.  They both stayed with that company

until World War II broke out.  After that Harry was strictly

involved with his own companies until after he "retired" around



     Harry was also somewhat active in game design in recent

years.  In the late Seventies he designed some "home" pinball

games for the Brunswick Corp.  Then, when his old friend and ex-

partner Sam Stern took over the old Chicago Coin Machine Co. and

renamed it Stern Electronics, Harry designed some games for



     One of the games he designed, HIGH HAND, contained another

Williams invention, a rotating "flipper like" device which would

move a ball from one "pocket" to another.  Recently Harry started

designing video games, including a combination video-pinball game

which he sold to Gottlieb.  To my knowledge this game has not yet

been produced.  Right up to the end Harry was still designing

amusement games.


     Harry believed in all types of amusement devices, anything

that could bring enjoyment to a person.  During the Fifties he

made games with something a little different.  He made several

amusement pinballs with animated horseraces and many novel "pitch

and bat" baseball games.  He also designed "PEPPY THE CLOWN", a

coin operated "marionette theater" in which the player

manipulated the puppet.


     Another novel Williams design was a "sidewalk engineer" game

in which the player operated a bulldozer at a construction site.

Harry even had an idea for a coin operated toy train layout which

he tried out but it did not prove too successful.  At any rate,

his ideas for amusements were endless.


     Harry was a company founder.  During his lifetime he founded

three separate companies.  In 1934 he started his own company in

Los Angeles called Automatic Amusements where he manufactured

games he designed.  In many cases he would make agreements with

larger Chicago manufacturers, such as Bally and Exhibit, to

manufacture his games for distribution in the Middle West and

East, with his company supplying the West.  When Harry went to

work in Chicago in 1935 he left his father in charge of his

company which was later disbanded.


     Shortly after the start of World War II, Harry and Lyn

Durrant left Exhibit and formed a new company, United

Manufacturing, to repair games at first, but hoping to obtain

Government contracts for war related products.  That outfit also

started "converting" old games into "new" ones in addition to

their "war work."  Harry sold his share of United to Lyn Durrant

In less than a year, but the company remained a major game

manufacturer up until the mid Fifties.


     After leaving United Harry formed still another company,

Williams Manufacturing, which was the forerunner of the current

Williams Electronics.  He remained with that company until about

1960 when the company was sold to the Consolidated Drug Co. of

Chicago.  That ownership did not last very long and the company

was finally bought by Seeburg in the early Sixties.  So, in a

period of less than a decade, Harry founded three game producers,

one of which is still in existence.


     As you can plainly see from reviewing the coin machine

industry career of Mr. Harry Williams, he was always a vital,

productive individual.  He certainly tried to improve the

amusement machine, which he dearly loved, and to think of new

ways to delight and entertain the American public via the medium

of coin operated devices.  This never stopped right up, I am

sure, to the day he died.


     Incidentally, an article on the life of Harry Williams was

published in the August 1960 issue of the popular men's magazine

TRUE.  It was titled "Ungunchable Harry, King of the Pins" and

was written by J.P. Cahn.  This entertaining piece was well

written, in a light hearted style, and told of Harry's life in

the coin machine business from the late 1920's through the

Fifties.  While even Harry Williams himself stated that

everything in this article may not have been precisely accurate,

it is a good overview of his fascinating career and highly

recommended reading.


     Finally, if I may, I would like to end on a personal note.

I had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Williams at his home in Palm

Springs in March of 1978.  I had called him on the phone, told

him I was a pinball collector interested in pinball history, and

he invited me to visit.  That was probably the most enjoyable

afternoon I have ever spent.  Mr. Williams was extremely cordial

and tried his best to answer my questions.  It was indeed a

memorable experience..


     During that visit he told me of a couple, Jim and Candace

Tolbert, who were writing a book on pinball and had contacted him

for information.  I contacted them and later on they talked me

into writing a column for a publication they were starting called

Amusement Review.  This was the first time I had ever written

anything for publication and I really didn't know if I could do

it, but I did.  And here I am still writing about pinball.  I

have Harry Williams to thank for my getting into writing and I am



     In the years since my visit with Mr. Williams I have talked

to him on the phone on several occasions.  Each time he was

extremely friendly and talked freely of his past associations

with the coin machine industry.  I learned a lot from him during

these conversations and much of that information has been passed

on through my articles on pinball history.


     I cannot easily express the feelings of shock and sadness I

felt upon hearing of this great man's passing.  He did so much

for coin operated amusement during his lifetime and I know his

memory will live on.  I certainly will never forget the thrill of

my association with Mr. Harry E. Williams, "the father of

pinball" and "king of the pins."