Ever Since I Was a Young Boy, I’ve Played the Silver Ball

Okay, I personally haven’t played much pinball, but I do find it kind of fascinating that it’s even still around. Arcades will usually have a few pinball machines, usually based on once-popular properties, off to one side. And they’re apparently still making new machines, like the Wizard of Oz one scheduled for release this year.

Although pinball machines now tend to have a lot of electronic components, at its most basic it’s a pre-electronic game. The forerunners of pinball were tabletop billiards games, the most famous of which was called Bagatelle.

The game originally used a miniature cue, but at some point in the eighteenth century the cues came to be replaced with spring launchers. It wasn’t until the 1930s that coin-operated pinball machines started showing up, the most famous of which being David Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball.

In this very popular game, the ball could only be controlled by moving the cabinet itself, and the score was determined with eight holes into which the ball could fall. The first machine with an electric component was Contact, built in 1933 by Harry Williams.

Humpty Dumpty, the first machine with flippers, came out in 1947, and was also Gottlieb’s invention.

The flippers were useful to combat the common perception that pinball was a game of chance rather than of skill. There was a large push against gambling in the thirties and forties, as it was largely controlled by gangsters. Not helping matters were machines similar to pinball that could pay out money. A particularly dark time in the history of pinball came in the early forties, when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York introduced a ban on the machines, and personally destroyed several of them and threw them in the river.

It is said that he donated the metal components to the war effort, so I guess that’s something. Anyway, pinball was not legal again in New York City until 1976. And LaGuardia got his just desserts by having an airport named after him. I wonder if there are any pinball machines at LaGuardia Airport.

Strangely, I don’t know of any evidence that there was ever actually a pinball machine with a keyboard attached.

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3 Responses to Ever Since I Was a Young Boy, I’ve Played the Silver Ball

  1. That was awesome. I’ve always been fascinated by pinball machines, and never knew all the history.

  2. Pingback: The Annals of Electronic Entertainment | VoVatia

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