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The modern era of pinball machines started in the early 1930s. The first popular pinballs were the BINGO (Bingo Novelty Company), BAFFLE BALL (D. Gottlieb & Company), and the BALLY HOO (Bally Corporation). In comparison to today's pinball machines, these machines were rather simple, low in cost, and small in size. They were designed to be countertop games, legs were a later addition.

The popularity of the pinball machine, like the popularity of the penny arcade, is attributed to the depression and the desire for low cost entertainment. Since many pinball operators gave away prizes for high scores, some players tried to cheat by shaking and lifting the machine. To counter this problem, the tilt mechanism was invented. Like today's video fads, many pinball machines were popular for only a few months until a newer more exciting machine was introduced. In 1933, electricity was introduced by adding a battery to the machine. As more features were added, the pinball machine was outfitted with transformers so that they could be plugged into an outlet. Lights and backglasses were added in 1934, and the pinball bumper was introduced in 1937.

The pinball machine really took off after World War II. The ten year period of 1948 to 1958 is referred to by many collectors as the "Golden Age of Pinball". The invention of the flipper in 1947 was one of the main reasons for the renewed interest in pinballs. The first flipper game was Gottlieb's HUMPTY DUMPTY. Many people believe that the "Golden Age" pinball machines were pieces of pop art and collect them for their artistic merit as well as their payability.

Two features distinguish the "Golden Age" pinballs from later model pinballs. First, the pinballs of this era have wooden legs and wooden rails on the sides of the machine. Metal legs and rails (for added strength and durability) were added in the late 1950s. Second, these pinballs also had scoring levels (10, 20, etc., 100, 200, etc., 1000, 2000, etc., etc.) built into the design of the backglass with a separate light bulb for each score, whereas in the late 1950s the manufacturers utilized a digital scoring system.

Additional information on pinball machines can be found in Encyclopedia of Pinballs, Pinball One, and Arcade Treasures by Bill Kurtz; and Pinball 1 by Dick Bueschel

Copyright: 1996 Ken Durham.





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Ken Durham
please email: durham@GameRoomAntiques.com