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The History of Pinball Machines and Pintables
The Birth Of Pinball : 1800s - 1900
The "ancestor" of all pinball machines is acknowledged to be the 19th century "Bagatelle-Table",
Pinball - The Early Years : 1930s - 1940s
The first coin-operated "pinball machine" was invented in 1931 by Automatic Industries and was
Pinball From The Late 40's to the 90's
Pinball Today : The Next Century
Pinball has come a long way in the last ten years or so, particularly in complexity, rulesets and
"Virtual Pinball", TAB Austria, 2002 "UltraPin" Digital Pinball, Global VR, 2006
Click here for a video featuring the UltraPin Video Pinball Machine
Pinball has now become a "in" item with high-profile celebrities, baby boomers, business exec's
& families, and has become a fixture on many TV shows and commercials, movie sets and many
magazine shoots, perhaps due to the "nostalgia factor" and the advent of personal home game
rooms, or realization that a individual can now easily purchase a pinball machine, or the fact that
playing a few good games of pinball after a hard day's work can be a tremendous stress-reliever!
Coke commercial with David Arquette shown
playing one of three classic pinballs in his
actual home collection in the foreground.
Iy 2002, the industry was left with just one major designer and manufacturer, Stern Pinball, based
in the Chicagoland area and run by Gary Stern, the son of Stern Electronics' founder Sam Stern.
Stern has released quite a few interesting and collectable titles over the past few years, and
hopefully will continue on in the tradition of great firms like Williams and Bally on future releases.
"Iron Man", Stern Pinball, 2010
Click here for a video featuring "Iron Man" Pinball Machine
Stern Pinball's ratio of "home sales" to commercial sales has risen from practically zero to an estimated 35% - 60% of their total sales in just the last 3 years, which is an encouraging new market for them to
sell into in the coming years as operator and commercial account orders continue to dwindle. There
have been some rumblings of other firms within the coin-op industry having aspirations of jumping into
the pinball machine game, but nothing seriously has been reported or announced to date. It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for pinball over the course of the next century... However, in late 2008, Stern announced, for the first time in its history, a major layoff of many in-house pinball designers, engineers and technical staff, due to declining sales because of the current economic climate, which questions the future of Stern Pinball, and new pinball machines in doubt - So it you want to purchase
a new pinball machine, buy one as soon as possible, because we predict that if Stern actually goes
out of business, the price of all remaining pinball machines will skyrocket after the economy improves.
As for the state of used or "pre-owned" machines, supplies are very tight and getting tighter, with ASP (average selling price) of good quality of pre-owned pinball machine of popular titles from the late 80's
to 90's now appreciating at a rate of 10% - 25 % or more per year, even in this economic climate, as
more and more individuals discover (or re-discover) the pleasures of pinball ownership and supplies
dry up. Just a few years ago, America had all the machines it ever needed to meet domestic supply;
but now it is estimated that over 70% of all preowned pinball machines now sold in the US come
from overseas sources in countries such as Western Europe and Latin America, due to the
increasingly high demand from Americans, even now in this depression-like economic climate.
But in 2013-2015, new pinball developers are now starting to enter into the pinball machine
"arena" and challenge the "old guard" maker Stern Pinball. with new and very exciting innovations,
from embedded LCD Monitors and Backboards to multi-colored LED playfield lighting, and one of
the most promising new players to hit the scene this year (with products) is Jersey Jack Pinball,
with the introduction of their radically designed "new-age" pinball machine called "Wizard Of OZ"
"Wizard Of Oz - Emerald City Edition", Jersey Jack Pinball, 2013
Click here for a video featuring the "Wizard Of Oz" Pinball Machine
What will this decade hold for pinball machine development? Stay tuned and find out..!
Surprising Pinball Machine Fact :
Did you know that it was illegal to own a pinball machine in New York and in many other states
of schoolchildren in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money". Given his statement,
it came as no shock when a pinball machine "ban" was carried out in dramatic fashion in New York -
In 1942, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia started executing a massive prohibition-style raid across the city by issuing
an ultimatum to the NYPD that their "top priority" would
be to round up all the pinball machines in the city and arrest their owners - The raid resulted in thousands
of machines being confisticated, then smashed with sledgehammers by the Mayor and the NYPD before
being dramatically dumped into the city's rivers. But
pinball in New York City did not disappear - it simply moved to low-key locations in "sketchy" areas..
From the Las Vegas Mercury Newspaper, Thursday, March 28, 2002 -
"In their earliest incarnations, some pin games (so named for the pins that dotted the playfield, guiding
the ball into holes with point values) such as Bally's 1933 Rocket offered cash payouts to the player if
he landed the ball in certain holes. It wasn't unusual to see such games taking their place next to conventional slot machines.
The advent of payout machines, versus nonpaying "novelty" machines manufactured by many of the
same companies, raised some sticky questions about this new form of entertainment: Was pinball a
game of skill or luck? The answer would mean the difference between a harmless game and a form of gambling- even if the "payout" was a free game.
Some states decided the latter and banned pinball machines. In January 1942, for instance, New York Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia banned pinball as a form of gambling, smashing several machines
in a publicity stunt.
Also, the passage of the Johnson Act in 1950 outlawed interstate shipping of certain types of pinball machines, as they were deemed gambling devices. Pinball manufacturers such as Williams and
Gottlieb responded by mounting a campaign of their own under the aegis of the Coin Machine Institute; these pinball makers eliminated payout machines and sought to show that pinball was a wholesome pastime that had no connection to gambling--especially with the advent of flippers in 1947, which
turned pinball, more than ever, into a game of skill.
Still, the ban in New York lasted until 1976; free games in the form of awarded replays are still illegal
in New York and in other cities, though the laws are rarely enforced."
Modern Pinball History Timeline
1931 -The first commercially successful pinball machine, "Baffle Ball" is introduced by Gottlieb.
1933 - The first mechanical "tilt" mechanism is introduced by Gottlieb in "Broker's Tip", and the
very first electrical tilt mechanism is introduced by ABT Manufacturing in "Autocount".
1936 - The first "bumpers" in a pinball machine are introduced by Bally in "Bumper".
1947 - The first pinball machine to to use ball "flippers" is seen in "Humpty Dumpty" by Gottlieb.
1948 - The first use of "active" or rebounding bumpers is introduced by Williams in "Rainbow".
1951 - The first playfield "slingshot" kickers (mostly triangular shaped in modern games) were
introduced with the "Double Feature" pinball machine made by Gottlieb
1953 - The first two-player pinball machine is released. (pinball machines before this were
strictly one player affairs) and the first use of "score wheels" ("Army Navy" - Williams)
and also the first use of "ramps" on playfields ("Nine Sisters" from Williams Mfg.)
1954 - The first multiple player pinball machine, "Super Jumbo", is released by D. Gottlieb.
1956 - The first "multiball" feature is featured on Bally's "Balls-A-Poppin" pinball machine.
1957 - The first use of a "match" bonus feature (a number in your final score is matched at
random to a number the machine picks, resulting in a free game, or "credit") in
pinball is introduced.
1960 - The first moving target in pinball is introduced with the "Magic Clock" from Williams.
The first "add-a-ball" (extra ball) game called "Flipper" is developed by D. Gottlieb.
The add-a-ball award was developed to counter various laws in effect during this
period that made it illegal for a game to award replays in certain parts of the country
because it was consider a "gambling" activity, especially in New York City
1962 - The first "drop targets" were introduced by Williams Manufacturing in "Vagabond".
1963 - The first "spinners" on a pinball playfield are introduced.
1964 - The first "mushroom" bumper (common in all of today's modern games) was
introduced by Bally.
1966 - The first digital scoring pinball machine, "Rally Girl" is produced by a French
company called Rally, using "Nixie Tube" (cold-cathode) glowing display tubes.
1968 - The first modern flippers (3 inches) are introduced on "Hayburners II" by Williams.
1975 - The first solid-state, or electronic pinball machine, "Spirit of 76", was first introduced
by Micro Games. It marks the beginning of the switch from electromechanical (EM)
machines to electronic (or "solid-state") pinball machines. And the first pinball
to be based on a licensed movie "theme", "Wizard!", is introduced by Bally.
The Magnificent Marble Machine, the largest non-commercial pinball machine ever
made (20' high x 12' long) was introduced on a NBC TV show of the same name.
Click here for a video featuring the Magnificent Marble Machine
1976 - The first widely available "solid state" pinball machine was introduced by Bally and
is called "Freedom". Many of the games from the mid 70's were produced in two
separate versions (both electronic and electromechanical), including Freedom.
Click here for a video featuring the Freedom Pinball Machine
The first "wide-body" pinball, "The Atarians" is introduced by Atari. Also in this year,
the long-time pinball machine manufacturer Chicago Coin makes its very last game,
and Chicago Coin is taken over by Sam Stern (father of Gary Stern), and renamed
"Stern Electronics" (now Stern Pinball). Also, Gottlieb is sold to Colombia Pictures.
1977 - The first electronically produced sounds in a pinball machine were introduced, and the
first photographic / "3D" backglass display is introduced by Bally on "Lost World".
1979 - The first "talking" or electronic speech game, which included 7 words, was introduced
by Williams and was called "Gorgar", along with the first pinball machines to have a
continuous electronic background "soundtracks". This was also the year in which the
very last electro-mechanical (EM) pinball machine was made by Gottlieb. And finally,
the largest commercially-produced pinball machine, "Hercules" is introduced by Atari
Click here for a Williams factory promo video of "Gorgar" Pinball Machine speech
1980 - The first "multi-level" pinball machine, along with the first "magna-save" player-controlled
ball magnet feature is introduced by Williams in "Black Knight", along with the first "lane
advance" feature introduced in "Firepower", also by Williams Manufacturing.
1982 - The first combination of a mechanical pinball machine with a video arcade game is
introduced in a hybrid pinball machine game called "Caveman" by Gottlieb.
Click here for a video featuring the Caveman Video Game / Pinball Machine
1984 - Colombia Pictures, owner of D. Gottlieb, decides to close the firm. The company is
then taken over by Premier Technology, but the Gottlieb name remains alive.
1985 - The first "alphanumeric" digital pinball machine scoring display is introduced by
Gottlieb in the "Chicago Cubs Triple Play" pinball machine
1986 - The first automatic replay percentage feature, along with the first use of a commercial
soundtrack and songs, and the first "jackpot" to carryover between games is introduced
in "High Speed" by Williams. Also, the first pinball machine to use an actual photograph
duplicated on the pinball backglass is introduced with "Raven" by Premier Technology
1987 - The first pinball machine with digital stereo sound ("Laser War") is introduced by Data-
East, and the first automatic ball-save feature is seen in "F-14 Tomcat" by Williams.
1988 - Bally Manufacturing is taken over by Williams Electronics, but the two companies
continue to produce separate lines of pinball machines under both names.
Also in this year, the first pinball machine with a video scoring display monitor is seen
in the "Dakar" pinball machine made by Mr. Game, a firm based in Bologna, Italy.
1989 - The first "wizard" (or expert) mode is introduced in "Black Knight 2000" by Williams
1990 - The first solid-state (electronic) flippers are introduced by Data-East.
1991 - The first "dot-matrix" scoring display is introduced by Data-East in "Checkpoint"
along with video "modes" that animate certain parts of the game part on screen.
Also in the year, electronic plungers become common and the "ball-saver" feature
is introduced, in part due to laws in the UK (England) governing games of chance.
1993 - The first use of a ceramic, or non-magnetic pinball, called the "Powerball" is first
introduced in the "Twilight Zone" pinball machine from Bally Manufacturing. Also
in this year, the first player-controlled "mini playfield" is seen in "Indiana Jones".
1994 - Sega buys out Data-East and is renamed "Sega Pinball".
1996 - Gottlieb (Premier Technology) goes out of business for good.
1998 - The first pinball machine with a video screen integrated into the playfield design
is introduced by Williams in their new "Pinball 2000" series pinball machines.
Click here for a video featuring the Revenge From Mars Pinball 2000 Machine
1999 - After just two Pinball 2000 releases, Williams Manufacturing (WMS) exits the pinball
machine business for good, but continues on as a maker of gaming devices for the
global gambling industry. Also in this year, Gary Stern buys Sega Pinball, renames
the combined firms as Stern Pinball and continues on as the only large scale
commercial pinball producer in the world in for most of the new decade.
2002 - A prototype of the first truly digital pinball machine, "Virtual Pinball" is introduced
at the 2002 IAAPA Amusement Show in Orlando by TAB Austria, and comes with a
a flat panel monitor replicating the playfield and housed in a non-standard cabinet.
2006 - The first digital video pinball machine that replicates the look, play and feel of a
traditional pinball machine on a flat screen monitor that replaces the traditional
playfield called "UltraPin", is introduced by UltraCade (GlobalVR), and features
12 digitally re-created classic pinball machine playfields from Funhouse, Eight Ball,
Pin-Bot, Medieval Madness, Black Knight 2000, Attack from Mars, F-14 Tomcat,
Fathom, Firepower, Strikes and Spares, Sorcerer and Xenon, all in one unit.
Click here for a video featuring the UltraPin Video Pinball Machine
2013 - The first "new age" pinball machine that replaces the static "backboard" or marquee
of a pinball machine with a LCD Monitor and also introduced full, multi-colored LED
lighting throughout the entire playfield along with other innovative pinball machine
enchantments is introduced by Jersey Jack Pinball, and called the "Wizard Of Oz".
Click here for a video featuring the "Wizard Of Oz" Pinball Machine
Acknowledgments to the Internet Pinball Database and The Coca-Cola Company for some picture content in this article
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