Flashback Friday: A History Of Pinball
Learn about the history of pinball in this High Times print piece from July, 1979.
Bagatelle, a popular game in the 19th century, is the granddaddy of pinball. Bagatelle is similar to pool, in that you use a cue stick to shoot balls into scoring holes. In 1871 a game called Improvements in Bagatelle was introduced, which featured a spring-powered plunger, bells, gates and metal pins spread about the playing field to confuse the ball’s downward progress. Imitations soon followed, although none were particularly commercially successful.
In the late 1920s electricity was added. The electric lights and bells defined modern pinball. Most games weren’t pinball as it is known and played today; they were coin-operated novelty machines employing metal balls through a maze of pins and lanes and into scoring holes. When Harry Williams invented such a pin-ball game in 1931, called Advance, he added mechanical gates, metal arches (as opposed to wooden arches) and the first tilt mechanism.
During the late ’20s and early ’30s coin-operated amusement machines enjoyed increasing popularity, and the demand for better games was outstripping the supply. In 1933 the game Jigsaw provided a metal puzzle that was completed by dropping balls into the proper holes. Williams invented the electric kick-out hole in the game Contact. Soon kick-out holes rang bells and the play fields became more attractive. Small-time manufacturers proliferated. Then a new gimmick was introduced, “pay-out pinball,” combining the fun of old-time pinball with the potential profits of slot machines. The price for this thrill jumped from one penny to five cents.