That Time America Outlawed Pinball

On March 6, 1948, a New York City patrolman in plain clothes entered a cigar store on 106th Street in East Harlem and dropped a penny into a machine called “The Marvel Pop Up.” He pulled back the game’s plunger and launched a small steel ball into play. The silver orb danced around the tabletop board as the undercover policeman tried to keep it in play. His first five shots ended in frustration, but his sixth try proved lucky as the metallic pellet landed in a hole that won him a free play.

Having finally made his shot, the patrolman placed the cigar store’s owner into handcuffs and arrested him for “unlawful possession of a gambling machine.” The arrest was just the latest in a crackdown on one of the perceived scourges of American society in the 1940s—pinball.

Ever since pinball came of age during the Great Depression with the production of the first coin-operated machine in 1931, it had been viewed by many as a menace to society. Before the advent of flippers in 1947, pinball was a considerably different game from what it is today. Except for tipping the machines, players were at the mercy of the random bounce of the ball. Players gambled on games, and operators handed out prizes from free games and gum all the way up to jewelry and chinaware. While law enforcement and civic groups looked askance at pinball for its gambling connections, churches and school boards also argued that it corrupted the morals of America’s children by encouraging them to steal coins, skip school in order to play and even go hungry by wasting their money on the frivolous pursuit.

It didn’t help pinball’s image that most of the machines were manufactured in Chicago, a hotbed of organized crime during the Great Depression. Criminal interests were said to control a large segment of the industry, and pinball was even linked to the notorious “Murder, Inc.” gang. New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was among those who believed that pinball bred crime and juvenile delinquency. The mayor said the pinball industry took in millions of dollars a year from the “pockets of school children in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money.” After cracking down on illegal slot machines, LaGuardia made prohibition of the “insidious nickel-stealers” the target of his next crusade.

Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the mayor and other pinball opponents wrapped their cause in the flag. Pinball was increasingly seen as a waste of materials—not to mention time—while America was at war. Copper, aluminum and nickel were among the materials used to manufacture pinball machines, and LaGuardia believed it “infinitely preferable that the metal in these evil contraptions be manufactured into arms and bullets which can be used to destroy our foreign enemies.”

After the city council approved LaGuardia’s ban on pinball machines in public spaces on January 21, 1942, police squads raided candy stores, bowling alleys, bars and amusement centers. They confiscated 2,000 machines, believed to be a fifth of the city’s count. Following the lead of the G-Men who took hatchets to barrels of moonshine in front of flashing news cameras during Prohibition, LaGuardia and other police chiefs assembled the press and smashed pinball machines to bits with sledgehammers. The remnants were loaded onto garbage barges and dumped in Long Island Sound. The harvest of contraband pinballs was said to contain enough metal to build four 2,000-pound aerial bombs.

Milwaukee, Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles followed New York’s lead in banning pinball. Other cities such as Washington, D.C., prohibited children from playing it during school hours. Pinball was driven underground and became as much a part of rebel culture as leather jackets, cigarettes and greaser hairstyles.

Pinball’s seedy reputation persisted for decades, even after the advent of the flipper, which made the game a test of reflexes. During the 1960 presidential election, Republicans tried to smear Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy by releasing a group photograph that included him with a silent partner in an Indiana pinball operation. Kennedy’s administration, led by his brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, targeted the interstate shipments of gambling-type pinball machines as part of its campaign against organized crime. (In another Kennedy connection, Jim Garrison, the district attorney of Orleans Parish who attempted to prove a conspiracy in President Kennedy’s assassination, was indicted in 1971 of accepting bribes to protect illegal pinball gambling in New Orleans. He was eventually found not guilty.)

Pinball finally gained acceptability in the 1970s. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that pinball was more a game of skill than chance and overturned its prohibition in Los Angeles. Two years later, with New York City in the midst of a bankruptcy crisis, the city council considered a measure to overturn the municipal ban on pinball that persisted for hotels, movie theaters, bars and similar establishments. Three decades after LaGuardia’s crusade, opposition to the game remained entrenched. “On the surface, it appears to be an innocent sort of device,” warned a Queens councilman opposed to overturning the ban, “but it will bring rampant vice and gambling back to the city.”

To prove to skeptical councilors that pinball was most definitely a game of skill and not chance, the Amusement and Music Operators Association recruited one of the top players in the country, writer Roger Sharpe, to demonstrate it on a machine set up in the Manhattan courtroom where the city council met. “Look, there’s skill, because if I pull the plunger back just right, the ball will, I hope, go down this particular lane,” Sharpe told the elected officials and media members who crowded around the glass top of the pinball machine, as he recalled to Newsday. Like Babe Ruth’s called shot, the pinball went exactly where Sharpe had predicted. “You could call it either skill or divine intervention, but the ball went down that lane, and that was it,” Sharpe told Newsday. The council overturned the ban, which was expected to bring $1.5 million into the city’s coffers by way of a $50 license fee on each pinball machine.

Other barriers around the country began to fall as well in the 1970s, but just as pinball gained social acceptance, the video game era offered a technological threat. Video games require fewer repairs and take up less floor space, which make them more attractive to operators. Only one manufacturer of pinball machines remains. The game, however, has seen a resurgence in recent years. According to the International Flipper Pinball Association, which operates the World Pinball Player Ranking, there are more than 1,800 pinball tournaments a year across the country that offer more than $1 million in cash and prizes—a payout that no doubt would have met with LaGuardia’s disapproval.

The Mayor Who Took a Sledgehammer to NYC's Pinball Machines

In "For Amusement Only," Laura June's history of American arcades at The Verge, there's a fascinating digression on pinball machines, a form of entertainment that most everyone today regards as wholesome.

Bygone New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia thought otherwise. As he saw it, circa January 1942, "pinball machine pushers were 'slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery' and the game was part of a broader 'craze' for gambling," June writes. "He ordered the city's police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its 'top priority,' and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines."

The raids were only partly explained by the fact that some pinball machines were mob-owned, she continues:

LaGuardia's mission gave voice to sentiments which hearkened back to the moral outrage of the Prohibition era, too, most of which had nothing to do with organized crime. Pinball, a "pointless game," was attractive to children, and this worried parents and "concerned citizens." Seth Porges, a writer and expert in the history of pinball, says there were "off the books" justifications for the banning of pinball in addition to those that were actually used to make it illegal.

On the one hand, he says, "they successfully made the case that pinball was a type of gambling," but under the surface was a much more temperance-fueled, nearly religious belief that pinball was a tool "from the devil," which corrupted youths. Newspapers across the country nodded their heads in agreement as games of all sorts - billiards, and even "old ladies' bridge clubs" -- were held up to scrutiny. At the time, it was easy to make the case that pinball was morally corrupting, at least insofar as it was a gateway to gambling, as well as a complete waste of time. Many large cities followed in New York's footsteps, including Los Angeles and Chicago (San Francisco is one of the only major cities to have never banned the game), and pinball bans became fairly commonplace across the United States.

How long did this absurd moral panic endure? Well, pinball was banned in New York until 1976! And the paternalism surrounding the industry apparently even struck "Nanny Bloomberg" as overwrought: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law an amended bill that raises the number of coin-op games that can be placed in New York City's public locations without an arcade license. Officials from the Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York joined the mayor as he put his signature on legislation that increases the threshold of game placements from four to nine. An arcade license is required for locating 10 or more games at a single site."

Crazy lover of liberty that I am, it seems to me that today's New Yorkers might even be able to handle unlicensed establishments with 12 or 13 arcade games, but let's focus on the past.

Mayor LaGuardia wasn't an idiot or an incompetent. Nor were World War II-era New Yorkers dumb. The fact that their zealous paternalism robbed fellow citizens of an amusement, despite its by-now-self-evident harmlessness, isn't a reason to condemn them. It is, rather, a reason to tread carefully when we codify our own judgments into binding municipal law. Pinball bans seem unbelievably absurd today. What regulations will seem equally needless to future generations? In my New York City days, it was the inability to buy wine in grocery stories that constantly bothered me. My home state, California, bans the sale of horse meat for human consumption, though it's perfectly legal to use horse meat in pet food.


Pre-modern: Development of outdoor and tabletop ball games Edit

The origins of pinball are intertwined with the history of many other games. Games played outdoors by rolling balls or stones on a grass course, such as bocce or bowls, eventually evolved into various local ground billiards games played by hitting the balls with sticks and propelling them at targets, often around obstacles. Croquet, golf and pall-mall eventually derived from ground billiards variants. [ citation needed ]

The evolution of outdoor games finally led to indoor versions that could be played on a table, such as billiards, or on the floor of a pub, like bowling and shuffleboard. The tabletop versions of these games became the ancestors of modern pinball.

Late 18th century: Spring launcher invented Edit

In France, during the long 1643–1715 reign of Louis XIV, billiard tables were narrowed, with wooden pins or skittles at one end of the table, and players would shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end, in a game inspired as much by bowling as billiards. Pins took too long to reset when knocked down, so they were eventually fixed to the table, and holes in the bed of the table became the targets. Players could ricochet balls off the pins to achieve the harder scorable holes. A standardized version of the game eventually became known as bagatelle.

Somewhere between the 1750s and 1770s, the bagatelle variant Billard japonais, or Japanese billiards in English, was invented in Western Europe, despite its name. It used thin metal pins and replaced the cue at the player's end of the table with a coiled spring and a plunger. The player shot balls up the inclined playfield toward the scoring targets using this plunger, a device that remains in use in pinball to this day, and the game was also directly ancestral to pachinko. [ citation needed ]

1869: Spring launchers become mainstream Edit

In 1869, British inventor Montague Redgrave settled in the United States and manufactured bagatelle tables in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1871 Redgrave was granted U.S. Patent #115,357 for his "Improvements in Bagatelle", [1] another name for the spring launcher that was first introduced in Billard japonais. The game also shrank in size to fit atop a bar or counter. The balls became marbles and the wickets became small metal pins. Redgrave's popularization of the spring launcher and innovations in game design are acknowledged as the birth of pinball in its modern form.

1931: Coin operation introduced Edit

By the 1930s, manufacturers were producing coin-operated versions of bagatelles, now known as "marble games" or "pin games". The table was under glass and used M. Redgrave's plunger device to propel the ball into the upper playfield. [ citation needed ] In 1931 David Gottlieb's Baffle Ball became the first hit of the coin-operated era. Selling for $17.50, the game dispensed five to seven balls for a penny. [ citation needed ] The game resonated with people wanting cheap entertainment in the Great Depression-era economy. Most drugstores and taverns in the U.S. operated pinball machines, [ citation needed ] with many locations quickly recovering the cost of the game. Baffle Ball sold over 50,000 units [ citation needed ] and established Gottlieb as the first major manufacturer of pinball machines.

In 1932, Gottlieb distributor Raymond Moloney found it hard to obtain more Baffle Ball units to sell. In his frustration he founded Lion Manufacturing to produce a game of his own design, Ballyhoo, named after a popular magazine of the day. The game became a smash hit. Its larger playfield and ten pockets made it more challenging than Baffle Ball, selling 50,000 units in 7 months. [2] Moloney eventually changed the name of his company to Bally to reflect the success of this game. These early machines were relatively small, mechanically simple and designed to sit on a counter or bar top.

1933: Electrification and active bumpers introduced Edit

The 1930s saw major advances in pinball design with the introduction of electrification. A company called Pacific Amusements in Los Angeles, California produced a game called Contact in 1933. Contact had an electrically powered solenoid to propel the ball out of a bonus hole in the middle of the playfield. Another solenoid rang a bell to reward the player. [3] The designer of Contact, Harry Williams, would eventually form his own company, Williams Manufacturing, in 1944. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit with similar features. Electric lights soon became a standard feature of all subsequent pinball games, designed to attract players.

By the end of 1932, there were approximately 150 companies manufacturing pinball machines, most of them in Chicago, Illinois. [4] Chicago has been the center of pinball manufacturing ever since. Competition among the companies was strong, and by 1934 there were 14 companies remaining. [5]

During WWII, all of the major manufacturers of coin-operated games turned to the manufacture of equipment for the war effort. Some companies, like Williams, bought old games from operators and refurbished them, adding new artwork with a patriotic theme. At the end of the war, a generation of Americans looked for amusement in bars and malt shops, and pinball saw another golden age. Improvements such as the tilt mechanism and free games (known as replays) appeared.

1947: Flippers introduced Edit

Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty, introduced in 1947, was the first game to add player-controlled flippers to keep the ball in play longer, adding a skill factor to the game. [ citation needed ] The low power flippers required three pairs around the playfield to get the ball to the top.

Triple Action was the first game to feature just two flippers at the bottom of the playfield. Unlike in modern machines, the flippers faced outwards. These flippers were made more powerful by the addition of a DC (direct current) power supply. These innovations were some of many by designer Steve Kordek.

The first game to feature the familiar dual-inward-facing-flipper design was Gottlieb's Just 21 released in January 1950, though the flippers were rather far apart to allow for a turret ball shooter at the bottom center of the playfield. Spot Bowler, also made by Gottlieb and released in October 1950. was the first game with inward-facing flippers placed close together. [6]

The post-war era was dominated by Gottlieb. Game designers Wayne Neyens and Ed Krynski, along with artist Leroy Parker, produced games that collectors consider some of the best classic pinball machines. [ citation needed ]

1970s: Solid-state electronics and digital displays introduced Edit

The introduction of microprocessors brought pinball into the realm of electronic gaming. The electromechanical relays and scoring reels that drove games in the 1950s and 1960s were replaced in the 1970s with circuit boards and digital displays. The first pinball machine using a microprocessor was Flicker, a prototype made by Bally in 1974. Bally soon followed that up with a solid state version of Bow and Arrow in the same year with a microprocessor board that would be used in eight other machines until 1978 which included Eight Ball, the machine that held the sales record from 1977 to 1993. [7] The first solid-state pinball is believed by some to be Mirco Games' The Spirit of '76 (1976), [8] though the first mainstream solid-state game was Williams' Hot Tip (1977). This new technology led to a boom for Williams and Bally, who attracted more players with games featuring more complex rules, digital sound effects, and speech.

The video game boom of the 1980s signaled the end of the boom for pinball. Arcades replaced rows of pinball machines with video games like 1978's Space Invaders, 1979's Asteroids, 1980's Pac-Man, and 1981's Galaga. These earned significantly greater profits than the pinball machines of the day, while simultaneously requiring less maintenance. Bally, Williams, and Gottlieb continued to make pinball machines, while they also manufactured video games in much higher numbers. Many of the larger companies were acquired by, or merged with, other companies. Chicago Coin was purchased by the Stern family, who brought the company into the digital era as Stern Enterprises, which closed its doors in the mid-1980s. Bally exited the pinball business in 1988 and sold their assets to Williams, who subsequently used the Bally trademark from then on for about half of their pinball releases.

While the video game craze of the late 1970s and early 1980s dealt a severe blow to pinball revenue, it did spark the creative talents within the industry. All companies involved tried to take advantage of the new solid state technology to improve player appeal of pinball and win back former players from video games. Some of this creativity resulted in landmark designs and features still present today. Some of these include speech, such as Williams' Gorgar ramps for the ball to travel around, such as Williams' Space Shuttle "multiball", used on Williams' Firepower multi-level games like Gottlieb's Black Hole and Williams' Black Knight and blinking chase lights, as used on Bally's Xenon. Although these novel features did not win back players as the manufacturers had hoped, they changed players' perception of pinball for coming decades.

1980s and 1990s: Pinball in the digital age Edit

During the 1980s, pinball manufacturers navigated technology changes while going through changes of ownership and mergers: Gottlieb was sold to Premier Technologies, and Bally merged with Williams. The Video game crash of 1983 made the manufacturers refocus on their pinball sales, and a trend started of pinball becoming increasingly elaborate to use more computing resources, following the example of video games. Games in the later half of the decade such as High Speed started incorporating full soundtracks, elaborate light shows and backbox animations - a radical change from the previous decade's electromechanical games. Although pinball continued to compete with video games in arcades, pinball held a premium niche, since the video games of the time could not reproduce an accurate pinball experience.

By the first years of the 1990s, pinball had made a strong comeback and saw new sales highs. Some new manufacturers entered the field such as Capcom Pinball and Alvin G. and Company, founded by Alvin Gottlieb, son of David Gottlieb. Gary Stern, the son of Williams co-founder Sam Stern, founded Data East Pinball with funding from Data East Japan.

The games from Williams now dominated the industry, with complicated mechanical devices and more elaborate display and sound systems attracting new players to the game. Licensing popular movies and icons of the day became a staple for pinball, with Bally/Williams' The Addams Family hitting an modern sales record of 20,270 machines. Two years later, Williams commemorated this benchmark with a limited edition of 1,000 Addams Family Gold pinball machines, featuring gold-colored trim and updated software with new game features. Other notable popular licenses included Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Expanding markets in Europe and Asia helped fuel the revival of interest. Pat Lawlor was a designer, working for Williams until their exit from the industry in 1999. About a year later, Lawlor returned to the industry, starting his own company, [9] working in conjunction with Stern Pinball to produce new games.

The end of the 1990s saw another downturn in the industry, with Gottlieb, Capcom, and Alvin G. closing by the end of 1996. Data East's pinball division was acquired by Sega and became Sega Pinball in 1994. By 1997, there were two companies left: Sega Pinball and Williams. In 1999, Sega sold their pinball division to Gary Stern (President of Sega Pinball at the time) who called his company Stern Pinball. [10] By this time, Williams games rarely sold more than 4,000 units. In 1999, Williams attempted to revive sales with the Pinball 2000 line of games, merging a video display into the pinball playfield. The reception was initially good with Revenge from Mars selling well over 6,000 machines, but short of the 10,000-plus production runs for releases just six years earlier. The next Pinball 2000 game, Star Wars Episode I, sold only a little over 3,500 machines. Williams exited the pinball business to focus on making gaming equipment for casinos, which was more profitable. They licensed the rights to reproduce Bally/Williams parts to Illinois Pinball and the rights to reproduce full-sized machines to The Pinball Factory. Stern Pinball remained the only manufacturer of original pinball machines until 2013, when Jersey Jack Pinball started shipping The Wizard of Oz. Most members of the design teams for Stern Pinball are former employees of Williams.

In the midst of the 1990s closures, virtual pinball simulations, marketed on computers and home consoles, had become high enough in quality for serious players to take notice: these video versions of pinball such as Epic Pinball, Full Tilt! Pinball and the Pro Pinball series found marketplace success and lasting fan interest, starting a new trend for realistic pinball simulation. This market existed largely independently from the physical pinball manufacturers, and relied upon original designs instead of licenses until the 2000s.

2000s and beyond: Revival Edit

After the closure of most of the pinball manufacturers in the 1990s, smaller independent manufacturers started appearing in the early 2000s.

In November 2005, The Pinball Factory (TPF) in Melbourne, Australia, announced that they would be producing a new Crocodile Hunter-themed pinball machine under the Bally label. With the death of Steve Irwin, it was announced that the future of this game was uncertain. [11] In 2006, TPF announced that they would be reproducing two popular 1990s era Williams machines, Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. [12] TPF however was unable to make good on its promises to produce new machines, and in October 2010 transferred its Williams Electronics Games licenses as well as its pinball spare parts manufacturing and distribution business to Planetary Pinball Supply Inc, a California distributor of pinball replacement parts. [13]

In 2006, Illinois pinball company PinBall Manufacturing Inc. produced 178 reproductions of Capcom's Big Bang Bar for the European and US markets. [14] [15]

In 2010, MarsaPlay in Spain manufactured a remake of Inder's original Canasta titled New Canasta, [16] [17] which was the first game to include a liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen in the backbox.

In 2013, Jersey Jack Pinball released The Wizard of Oz pinball machine, based on the 1939 film. It is the first pinball machine manufactured in the US with a large color display (LCD) in the backbox, [18] the first widebody pinball machine since 1994 [19] and the first new US pinball machine not made by Stern Pinball since 2001. [20] This game was followed by The Hobbit [21] in 2016 (based on The Hobbit film series), Dialed In! [22] in 2017 [23] [24] (an original theme designed by Pat Lawlor which included bluetooth technology that enabled flipper control from a smart phone [25] and a camera built into the backbox for taking selfies), Pirates of the Caribbean [26] (based on the Pirates of the Caribbean film series) in 2018 and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory [27] (based on the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory from 1971) in 2019.

In 2013, the Chicago Gaming Company announced the creation of a remake of Medieval Madness. [28] [29] [30] This was later followed by a 2017 release of a remake of Attack from Mars, and a 2018 release of a remake of Monster Bash.

In 2014, the new pinball manufacturer Spooky Pinball released their first game America's Most Haunted. [31] This was followed by a few more themed, original, and contracted titles.

In 2015, the new British pinball manufacturer Heighway Pinball released the racing themed pinball machine Full Throttle. [32] The game has an LCD screen for scores, info, and animations located in the playfield surface at player's eye view. [33] The game was designed with modularity in mind so that the playfield and artwork could be swapped out for future game titles. Heighway Pinball's second title, Alien, [34] was released in 2017 [35] [36] and was based on the Alien and Aliens films. Unfortunately, due to internal company issues, [37] Heighway Pinball ceased manufacturing operations and closed its doors in April 2018. [38]

In 2016, Dutch Pinball, based in the Netherlands, released their first game The Big Lebowski, based on the 1998 film, The Big Lebowski. [39]

In 2017, Multimorphic began shipping their pinball machine platform after several years of development. [40] It is a modular design where different games can be swapped into the cabinet. It also has a large interactive display as the playfield surface, which is different from all prior pinball machines that were traditionally made of plywood and embedded with translucent plastic inserts for lighting.

Pinball machines, like many other mechanical games, were sometimes used as gambling devices. [42] Some pinball machines, such as Bally's "bingos", featured a grid on the backglass scoring area with spaces corresponding to targets or holes on the playfield. Free games could be won if the player was able to get the balls to land in a winning pattern however, doing this was nearly random, and a common use for such machines was for gambling. Other machines allowed a player to win and accumulate large numbers of "free games" which could then be cashed out for money with the location owner. Later, this type of feature was discontinued in an effort to legitimize the machines, and to avoid legal problems in areas where awarding free games was considered illegal, some games, called Add-A-Ball, did away with the free game feature, instead giving players extra balls to play (between 5 and 25 in most cases). These extra balls were indicated via lighted graphics in the backglass or by a ball count wheel, but in some areas that was disallowed, and some games were shipped with a sticker to cover the counters.

Prohibition Edit

Pinball was banned beginning in the early 1940s until 1976 in New York City. [43] New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was responsible for the ban, believing that it robbed school children of their hard earned nickels and dimes. [43] [44] La Guardia spearheaded major raids throughout the city, collecting thousands of machines. The mayor participated with police in destroying machines with sledgehammers before dumping the remnants into the city's rivers. [44]

The ban ended when Roger Sharpe (a star witness for the AMOA – Amusement and Music Operators Association) testified in April 1976 before a committee in a Manhattan courtroom that pinball games had become games of skill and were not games of chance (which are more closely associated with gambling). He began to play one of two games set up in the courtroom, and – in a move he compares to Babe Ruth's home run in the 1932 World Series – called out precisely what he was going to shoot for, and then proceeded to do so. Astonished committee members reportedly voted to remove the ban, which was followed in other cities. (Sharpe reportedly acknowledges, in a self-deprecating manner, his courtroom shot was by sheer luck although there was admittedly skill involved in what he did.) [45]

Like New York, Los Angeles banned pinball machines in 1939. The ban was overturned by the Supreme Court of California in 1974 because (1) if pinball machines were games of chance, the ordinance was preempted by state law governing games of chance in general, and (2) if they were games of skill, the ordinance was unconstitutional as a denial of the equal protection of the laws. [46] Although it was rarely enforced, Chicago's ban on pinball lasted three decades and ended in 1976. Philadelphia and Salt Lake City also had similar bans. [47] [48] Regardless of these events, some towns in America still have such bans on their books the town of Kokomo, Indiana lifted its ordinance banning pinball in December 2016. [49]

Pachinko Edit

Another close relative of pinball is pachinko, a gambling game played in Japan. Although they share a common ancestry, the games are very different, in that pachinko involves shooting many small balls repeatedly into a nearly vertical playfield, while pinball is about the manipulation of the small number of balls currently in play on a near-horizontal playfield.

Cabinet Edit

Backbox/Head Edit

One attribute of the pinball machine that makes it instantly identifiable is the unique cabinet design that contains all the mechanical, electrical and electronic parts, assemblies and wires that make all the magic happen. The modern cabinet consists of two major items. The 'backbox' or 'head' (among other terms: lightbox) is the vertical box atop the lower cabinet opposite the player's position. It usually consists of a wooden box with colorful graphics on the side and a large 'backglass' in the front. The backglass usually has very stylized graphics related to or depicting the theme of the game, and also the game's name (and sometimes the manufacture year). The backglass is the game's 'advertisement', intended to catch the eye of passersby and entice gameplay. Many backglasses are beautifully illustrated and approach fine illustration or fine art quality. The silkscreened graphics are partially translucent and have small lights mounted in strategic locations to highlight parts of the artwork, and also light up scores, the ball currently in play, which player's turn it is (on a multi-player game), and so on. The Electro-Mechanical (EM) heads often have 'animation' or moving parts incorporated into the backglass and spring to life if the player achieves the required sequence on the playfield to activate it. Most games have an "insert board" between the backglass and controls that has lights to highlight portions of the backglass artwork or game name or other mechanical devices or displays.

The Electro-mechanical (EM) heads contain the score reels, relays and stepper units that control the scores and other sequencing operations dealing with players, balls, scores, credits and so forth. Most EM backglasses are removed from the rear of the head where a lever will release it so it can be leaned back and carefully sliding it up and out. The newer Solid State game heads contain most of the circuit boards and digital displays that perform the same functions as their EM predecessors, but much faster and with exponentially higher capacity. Newer games may have digital displays (some with alpha-numeric digit displays) or a dot-matrix-display (DMD-often used to describe the era of the 90s) and speakers. All games will have some sort of cabling connecting the head to the rest of the game. The heads of all games will have 2-4 bolts securing them to the lower cabinet. Newer games have pivot brackets that allow them to be folded down for easier transport. The EMs will have a tin panel in the back of the head with a lock to unlatch for service. Newer games are serviced from the front. Typically they will have a lock on the side of the head, or centered above the backglass to unlatch.

Lower Cabinet Edit

The EM lower cabinet is packed full of fuses, relays, stepper units and a score motor, among other things, mounted to a Mechanical Board which is mounted to the cabinet floor. For access, open the coin door, pull the release lever and pull the handrail up and out. Slide out the playfield glass. Remove ball(s). Lift up the playfield (grab the metal apron right below the flipper bats and lift straight up some games you have to hold a release bar or turn locking levers) and place it on the prop rod (mounted on the right side of lower cabinet and pivots up to fit into a recessed niche in the playfield bottom) or against the backbox (slide the playfield forward then lean back against the backbox). CAUTION! Some designs do not fully support the playfield and it can fall into the lower cabinet! All the relays should have a paper label identifying their function, although many have been lost to the ages. The score motor and its cams and switches control everything. The Mechanical Board is mounted to the cabinet floor with bolts, so that it can be removed for service if necessary. Just inside and under the coin door is the cash box. Nearby will be several fuses and a tilt mechanism. At the bottom of the coin door are switches that add credits. Typically inside the coin door on the right will be the chime box that makes those distinctive dings. In the far end, away from the coin door, the AC power cord enters through a notch cut into the pedestal board. Make sure you run the power cord through here before mounting the head. Near the far end of the mechanical board there will be 3-5 Jones Plug connectors for the playfield and backbox. The transformer is back there, too.

The modern lower cabinet is mostly empty. Power cord, transformer, tilt mechs, diagnostic switches, speaker(s), wiring harnesses, flipper buttons. Both types of cabinets have four legs, one at each corner, typically secured with acorn head bolts that mate with a threaded plate attached to the inside corner brace. Older games have wooden legs, while modern games have many sorts of finishes on metal legs, with Chrome and black powder coat popular choices. Legs should have adjustable casters at the bottom to adjust pitch (rear-to-front angle) and level (side-to-side evenness). Some modern games are fitted with a small "bubble level" by the ball plunger. It will have 2 or 3 rings etched on it, and adjusting the casters until the top of the bubble just touches one of the lines will set the game to a good pitch for casual play. For faster play, screw the front casters all the way in and the rear casters almost all the way out. Note there are longer casters (than original) that can be installed to increase ball speed. This leads to very fast frenetic gameplay and often short ball times.

Playfield Edit

The key attribute of a successful pinball game is an interesting and challenging layout of scoring opportunities on the playfield. Many types of targets and features have been developed over the years.

The playfield is a planar surface inclined upward from three to seven degrees (current convention is six and a half degrees), away from the player, and includes multiple targets and scoring objectives. Some operators intentionally extend threaded levelers on the rear legs and/or shorten or remove the levelers on the front legs to create additional incline in the playfield, making the ball move faster and harder to play. It is important that the playfield be level left-to-right a quick visual test compares the top of the back cabinet against a brick or block wall behind it, or to roll a marble down the center of the playfield glass. If it clearly rolls off to one side, a player may be inclined to stuff folded paper beneath the legs on the lower side to level the playfield. Additionally, leg levelers that are all extended fully make the game easier to nudge when collapsed low, the entire game is more stable, and nudging becomes harder.

The ball is put into play by use of the plunger, a spring-loaded rod that strikes the ball as it rests in an entry lane, or as in some newer games, by a button that signals the game logic to fire a solenoid that strikes the ball. With both devices the result is the same: The ball is propelled upwards onto the playfield. Once a ball is in play, it tends to move downward towards the player, although the ball can move in any direction, sometimes unpredictably, due to contact with objects on the playfield or by the player's own actions. To return the ball to the upper part of the playfield, the player makes use of one or more flippers.

Manipulation of the ball may also be accomplished by various tricks, such as "nudging". However, excessive nudging is generally penalized by the loss of the current player's turn (known as tilting) or ending of the entire game when the nudging is particularly violent (known as slam tilting). This penalty was instituted because nudging the machine too much may damage it or result in unearned play and scoring that wears game parts. Many games also have a slam tilt in the bottom of the lower cabinet to end the game if the cabinet is raised and dropped to the floor in an attempt to falsely trigger the coin counting switch.

Plunger Edit

The plunger is a spring-loaded rod with a small handle, used to propel the ball into the playfield. The player can control the amount of force used for launching by pulling the plunger a certain distance (thus changing the spring compression). This is often used for a "skill shot," in which a player attempts to launch a ball so that it exactly hits a specified target. Once the ball is in motion in the main area of the playfield, the plunger is not used again until another ball must be brought onto the playfield. In modern machines, an electronically controlled launcher is sometimes substituted for the plunger. The shape of the ball launch button that replaces the plunger may be modified to fit the aesthetics of a particular game's theme, such as being made to look like the trigger of a gun in a game with a military or action-hero theme.

Flippers Edit

The flippers are one or more small mechanically or electromechanically controlled levers, roughly 3 to 7 cm ( 1 + 1 ⁄ 4 to 2 + 3 ⁄ 4 in) in length, used for redirecting the ball up the playfield. They are the main control that the player has over the ball. Careful timing and positional control allows the player to intentionally direct the ball in a range of directions with various levels of velocity. With the flippers, the player attempts to move the ball to hit various types of scoring targets, and to keep the ball from disappearing off the bottom of the playfield. The very first pinball games appeared in the early 1930s and did not have flippers after launch the ball simply proceeded down the playfield, directed by static nails (or "pins") to one of several scoring areas. (These pins gave the game its name.) In 1947, the first mechanical flippers appeared on Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty [50] and by the early 1950s, the familiar two-flipper configuration, with the flippers at the bottom of the playfield above the center drain, had become standard. Some machines also added a third or fourth flipper midway up the playfield.

The new flipper ushered in the "golden age" of pinball, where the fierce competition between the various pinball manufacturers led to constant innovation in the field. Various types of stationary and moving targets were added, spinning scoring reels replaced games featuring static scores lit from behind. Multiplayer scores were added soon after, and then bells and other noise-makers, all of which began to make pinball less a game and more of an experience. The flippers have loaned pinball its common name in many languages, where the game is known mainly as "flipper".

Bumpers Edit

Bumpers are round knobs that, when hit, will actively push the ball away. There is also an earlier variety of bumper (known as a dead bumper or passive bumper) that doesn't propel the ball away most bumpers on machines built since the 1960s are active bumpers, variously called "pop bumpers," "thumper bumpers," "jet bumpers," or "turbo bumpers." Most recent games include a set of pop bumpers, usually three, sometimes more or fewer depending on the designer's goals. Bumpers predate flippers, and active bumpers added a great deal of spice to older games.

Pop bumpers are operated by a switch connected to a ring surrounding the bottom circumference of the bumper that is suspended several millimeters above the playfield surface. When the ball rolls over this ring and forces one side of it down, a switch is closed that activates the bumper's solenoid. This pulls down a tapered ring surrounding the central post of the bumper that pushes downward and outward on the ball, propelling it away.

Kickers and slingshots Edit

Kickers and slingshots are rubber pads which propel the ball away upon impact, like bumpers, but are usually a horizontal side of a wall. Every recent pinball machine includes slingshots to the upper left and upper right of the lowest set of flippers older games used more experimental arrangements. They operate similarly to pop bumpers, with a switch on each side of a solenoid-operated lever arm in a typical arrangement. The switches are closed by ball contact with the rubber on the face of the kicker and this activates the solenoid.

Early pinball machines typically had full solenoid current passing through trigger switches for all types of solenoids, from kickers to pop bumpers to the flippers themselves. This caused arcing across switch contacts and rapid contact fouling and failure. As electronics were gradually implemented in pinball design, solenoids began to be switched by power transistors under software control to lower switch voltage and current, vastly extend switch service lifetime, and add flexibility to game design.

As an example, some later machines had flippers that could be operated independently of the flipper button by the machine's software. The upper-left flipper during "Thing Flips" on The Addams Family pinball machine triggers automatically a brief moment after the ball passes an optical sensor just above the flipper.

The smaller, lower-powered solenoids were first to be transistorized, followed later by the higher-current solenoids as the price, performance, and reliability of power transistors improved over the years.

Targets Edit

  • Stationary Targets: These are static targets that simply record when a ball strikes them. These are generally the simplest playfield elements. They are also known as spot targets or standup targets.
  • Bullseye Targets: These are static targets that have two concentric elements, similar to a stationary target. Hitting the outer ring usually scores lower than hitting the center bull's eye. They are found mostly on older electro-mechanical games.
  • Drop targets: These are targets that drop below the playfield when hit. Eliminating an entire row in this manner may lead to any of various features. Once an entire bank of drop targets is hit, the bank may reset or pop back up. Alternatively, the drop targets can be placed in front of other targets, requiring the drop target to be knocked down before the targets behind can be hit, or the drop target may only pop up at specific times to deny the player the ability to shoot the ball into whatever is behind it. If used in the latter way, the target is usually blocking a lane or ramp.
  • Kicking Target: Used rarely, these targets look like stationary targets, but when hit they kick the ball away in the opposite direction much like a slingshot or bumper.
  • Vari-Target: These targets reward a different number of points depending on how hard the target was hit. It is a metal arm that pivots under the playfield. When a ball hits it, it ratchets back sometimes, resetting immediately or resetting only after it is hit all the way back. A large sum of points is usually rewarded when the target is hit back all the way with one strike of the ball.

Holes and saucers Edit

  • Holes: The player directs the ball into a hole. On modern games, there are both vertical and horizontal holes (also called scoops), and the game may include mechanisms to move the ball between them. On some older games, a "gobble hole" is sometimes included which does not return the ball, but gives a large bonus or a game feature, which may be the ball itself.
  • Saucers: A shallow hole with a kicker inside. The ball remains visible on the playfield and is kicked out either straight up (usually into a duct or rail chute) or sideways back onto the playfield.

Originally holes and saucers worked by using tubes behind the playing field, with a pin at the top to hold the ball for later drops. Another version of the tube uses two spinning wheels to transfer the ball from hole to hole. Newer versions use an electronic track with a carriage or an electromagnet to pull the ball between holes.

Spinners and rollovers Edit

  • Spinners: A ball can push through a flat surface that is hinged in the middle, causing it to spin each rotation adds points.
  • Rollovers: These are targets activated when a ball rolls over them. Often a series of rollover targets are placed side-by-side and with dividers between them forming "lanes" the player must guide the ball to particular lanes (or to all lanes) in order to complete an objective. Such lanes are frequently placed at the bottom sides of the playfield: "inlanes" feed the ball back to the flippers, "outlanes" cause the ball to immediately drain. On many machines, outlanes can have extra balls or "specials" lit to act in the same role as the older gobble holes.
  • Whirlwind Spinner(s): Used in some games, a whirlwind spinner is a rapidly rotating (often rubberized) disk on the playfield that momentarily "grabs" the ball and throws it in a random direction. Some games couple a whirlwind spinner with a magnet placed in the center, although DataEast seems to be the only manufacturer to do so. Bally's "Fireball" and Chicago Coin's "Casino" were popular games with a whirlwind spinner.

Switches, gates, and stoppers Edit

  • Switch: A switch is an area that is blocked off after the ball passes through it once. An example of this is the initial firing lane: as a ball passes through the firing lane, it hits a switch and cannot reenter that chute.
  • Gate: This is a block that will allow balls to come through one way but will block the ball if it is going the other way.
  • Stopper: Also called a magic post, this is a small pole most often found centered between and just below the lowest set of flippers and also rarely next to the outlanes. When activated (typically by hitting a specific target or targets), the pole ascends from inside the machine, blocking the area between the flippers for a limited time, making it more difficult to drain and lose the ball. After time expires, it returns to its resting place just below the playfield.

Ramps Edit

Ramps are inclined planes with a gentle enough slope that the ball may travel along it. The player attempts to direct the ball with enough force to make it to the top of the ramp and down the other side. If the player succeeds, a "ramp shot" has been made. Ramps frequently end in such a way that the ball goes to a flipper so one can make several ramp shots in a row. Often, the number of ramp shots scored in a game is tallied, and reaching certain numbers may lead to various game features. At other times, the ramps will go to smaller "mini-playfields" (small playfields, usually raised above the main game surface, with special goals or scoring).

Toys, magnets and captive balls Edit

  • Toys: Toys are various items on, above, or beneath the playfield (items beneath the playfield visible through windows) or attached to the cabinet (usually to the backbox). Usually, each toy is unique to the machine it was made for, and reflects the theme of the game. They may be visual only, and have no effect on game play they may be alternate ways of performing common game functions (for example, instead of using a drop hole to hold the ball, a hand or claw might reach out, grab the ball, and capture it that way) or they may be an integral part of the game rules and play (for instance, having a smaller playfield over the main playfield that can be tilted right and left by the player, using the flipper buttons).
  • Electromagnets: Some machines feature electrically operated magnets below the playfield to affect the ball's speed and/or trajectory according to the current state of game play. This may be done to make the ball's movement unpredictable, to temporarily halt the ball (as a ball saver, for example), or to otherwise control the ball by non-mechanical means. Electromagnets may also be used in above-playfield elements (often as part of the playfield toys) to grab the ball and move it elsewhere (onto a mini-playfield, for example). The Williams machine The Twilight Zone featured a mini-playfield that used electromagnets controlled by the flipper buttons, allowing the player to flip the ball on the mini-playfield, essentially working as invisible flippers. Contrary to somewhat popular myth, there are no professionally produced pinball machines known to contain magnets under the playfield intended to clandestinely make game play harder or increase ball losses. [51]
  • Captive balls: Sometimes a ball is allowed to move around only within a confined area. A typical application of this is having a short lane on the playfield with a narrow opening, inside which a captive ball is held. The player can strike this captive ball with the ball in play, pushing it along the lane to activate a rollover switch or target. In games such as Theatre of Magic, captive balls sometimes have what's called a "Newton Ball," which is a stationary ball adjacent to a free ball in a small lane. The ball being played strikes the Newton ball which, in turn, transfers its momentum to the adjacent ball, which causes it to move.

Backglass Edit

The backglass is a vertical graphic panel mounted on the front of the backbox, which is the upright box at the top back of the machine. The backglass contains the name of the machine and eye-catching graphics in games up to the 1980s the artwork would often portray large-breasted women in skimpy clothing. The score displays (lights, mechanical wheels, an LED display, or a dot-matrix display depending on the era) would be on the backglass, and sometimes also a mechanical device tied to game play, for example, elevator doors that opened on an image or a woman swatting a cat with a broom such as on Williams' 1989 "Bad Cats". For older games, the backglass image is screen printed in layers on the reverse side of a piece of glass in more recent games, the image is imprinted into a translucent piece of plastic-like material called a translite which is mounted behind a piece of glass and which is easily removable. The earliest games did not have backglasses or backboxes and were little more than playfields in boxes. Games are generally built around a particular theme, such as a sport or character and the backglass art reflects this theme to attract the attention of players. Recent machines are typically tied into other enterprises such as a popular film series, toy, or brand name. The entire machine is designed to be as eye-catching as possible to attract players and their money every possible space is filled with colorful graphics, blinking lights, and themed objects, and the backglass is usually the first artwork the players see from a distance. Since the artistic value of the backglass may be quite impressive, it is not uncommon for enthusiasts to use a deep frame around a backglass (lighted from behind) and hang it as art after the remainder of the game is discarded.

There are other idiosyncratic features on many pinball playfields. Pinball games have become increasingly complex and multiple play modes, multi-level playfields, and even progression through a rudimentary "plot" have become common features on recent games. Pinball scoring objectives can be quite complex and require a series of targets to be hit in a particular order. Recent pinball games are distinguished by increasingly complex rule sets that require a measure of strategy and planning by the player for maximum scoring. Players seeking highest scores would be well-advised to study the placard (usually found in the lower-left corner of the playfield) to learn each game's specific patterns required for these advanced features and scoring.

Common features in modern pinball games include the following:

  • Ball lock: Each time a ball goes into a specific hole or target, it is locked, and a new ball appears at the plunger. When the player has locked the required number of balls (often three), the multiball feature starts. On some games, the balls are physically locked in place by solenoid-actuated gates, but many newer machines use virtual ball locks instead, in which the game merely keeps count of the number of locked balls and then auto-launches them from the main ball trough when it is time for them to be released.
  • Multiball: This occurs when there is more than one ball in play at a time and usually includes some kind of jackpot scoring. Multiball ends when all but one ball is lost down the bottom of the playfield, and then regular play resumes.
  • Jackpot: Some targets on the playfield increase the scoring value of something else, which could be as simple as hitting a ramp, or a complicated sequence of targets. Upon their inception, the jackpot was the main goal of most pinball machines in the 1980s. Jackpots would often range from one to four million (back when this was a significant addition to the score), and their value would accrue between games until it was scored. Scoring it was usually a complicated task. Modern games often dilute the meaning of "jackpot". Modern games give off several jackpots in each multiball mode, which is usually quite easy to attain, and the value of today's jackpots is far less significant. Many jackpots awarded during special modes often do not increase at all, but are instead simply fixed-value bonuses.
  • End-of-ball bonus: After each ball is played, the player scores bonus points depending on how many times certain features have been activated or the numbers of items that the player may obtain. Some games award a seemingly arbitrary number of points that depend on the number of times any switch has been hit. Virtually all games have the ability to assign a multiplier to the bonus. Most games cap the bonus multiplier at 5x or 10x, although more modern games apparently have no limit.
  • Extra ball: If a player has earned this, when they lose a ball they get another one to play immediately afterward and the machine does not count the lost ball towards the limit of balls for that game. For example, if the player were on ball two and they earn an extra ball, the next ball will still be counted as ball two instead of the third ball. When a machine says "SHOOT AGAIN" on the scoreboard, it signifies that an extra ball will shoot. In a multiplayer game, the player who just lost the ball is the same one to shoot again.
  • Kickback: When a ball goes into one of the outlanes the ball instead of draining goes into a kicker that will launch the ball back into play. Their use is limited and has to be earned to be used.
  • Various timed rounds (modes): For example, if the player hit a specific target three times within the next 20 seconds, they might score several tens of millions of points for it. There are many and various time-related features in pinball. Progression through each mode is frequently accompanied by DMD animations and sound.
  • Stackability: To stack means that the player can run one play mode while another mode is in progress. This strategy usually yields higher scores. A noted example of this is Williams' Bram Stoker's Dracula, with its Multi-Multiball feature.
  • Wizard Mode: This is a special scoring mode, which is reached after meeting certain prerequisites to access this mode (e.g., finishing all modes). This is the pinball equivalent of the final boss fight in video games. Classic examples of this include Williams' Black Knight 2000 (The King's Ransom) and Midway's Twilight Zone (Lost in the Zone). Named after The Who's song "Pinball Wizard". Wizard modes come in two varieties: goal-oriented types where the player receives a huge number of points after completing a specific task, or multiball modes with 4–6 balls in play, and virtually every feature active. Some games offer both and award the latter as a condition for completing the former.
  • Ball Saver: Many modern games include a feature that prevents a player from being disappointed if a ball sent into play quickly drains before substantial points have been added. This player will immediately be given another (free) ball to compensate. Electromechanical games made during the 1970s had a similar Ball Index switch system that returned a drained ball if no points were made.
  • Slam Tilt: There are special tilt switches placed on the underside of the playfield, on the coin door, and (on electromechanical games) in the lower cabinet and upper cabinet, designed to prevent cheating. If a player lifts and drops, pounds, or kicks the machine and activates any slam tilt, the entire game ends immediately for all players and may go into a reset/reboot mode. These are also used on video and coin pusher games. A similar Incline Tilt prevents a player from lifting the front of the cabinet to tip the ball back up the playfield by ending his turn.

In the 1990s, game designers often put hidden, recurring images or references in their games, which became known as easter eggs. [52] For example, Williams' designers hid cows in the video displays of the games, and Pat Lawlor would place a red button in the artwork of games he developed. The methods used to find the hidden items usually involved pressing the flipper buttons in a certain order or during specific events. Designers also included hidden messages or in-jokes one example of this is the phrase "DOHO" sometimes seen quickly displayed on the dot matrix displays, a reference to Dorris Ho, the wife of then-Williams display artist Scott "Matrix" Slomiany. DOHO was popularly thought to be an acronym for Documented Occurrence of a Hidden Object until its true meaning was revealed in a PinGame Journal article on the subject. [53] The game Star Trek: The Next Generation went so far as to embed a hidden Breakout-like game, available only after a complex sequence of events had been accomplished during the game. [54]

Contact with or manipulation of scoring elements (such as targets or ramps) scores points for the player. Electrical switches embedded in the scoring elements detect contact and relay this information to the scoring mechanism. Older pinball machines used an electromechanical system for scoring wherein a pulse from a switch would cause a complex mechanism composed of relays to ratchet up the score. In later games these tasks have been taken over by semiconductor chips and displays are made on electronic segmented or dot-matrix displays (DMD). The first DMD on a pinball machine was used by Checkpoint and features also video mode minigames. [55] [56] [57] [58] MarsaPlay in Spain manufactured a remake of Inder's original Canasta titled New Canasta, with an LCD screen in the backbox in 2010. [16] [17] The Wizard of Oz is the first US pinball machine that used a LCD in the back box. It is not only used for scoring and mini-games but also to display full color videos. [18] Other display innovations on pinball machines include pinball video game hybrids like Baby Pac-Man in 1982 [59] and Granny and the Gators in 1984 [60] and the use of a small color video monitor for scoring and minigames in the backbox of the pinball machine Dakar from manufacturer Mr. Game in 1988 [61] and CGA color monitors in Pinball 2000 in 1999 that utilizes a Pepper's ghost technique to reflect the monitor in the head of the as well as modifications by the use of ColorDMD [62] that is used to replace the standard mono color DMDs.

Pinball scoring can be peculiar and varies greatly from machine to machine. During the 1930s and the 1940s, lights mounted behind the painted backglasses were used for scoring purposes, making the scoring somewhat arbitrary. (Frequently the lights represented scores in the hundreds of thousands.) Then later, during the 1950s and 1960s when the scoring mechanism was limited to mechanical wheels, high scores were frequently only in the hundreds or thousands. (Although, in an effort to keep with the traditional high scores attained with the painted backglass games, the first pinball machines to use mechanical wheels for scoring, such as Army Navy, allowed the score to reach into the millions by adding a number of permanent zeros to the end of the score.) The average score changed again in the 1970s with the advent of electronic displays. Average scores soon began to commonly increase back into tens or hundreds of thousands. Since then, there has been a trend of scoring inflation, with modern machines often requiring scores of over a billion points to win a free game. At the peak of this trend, Williams No Fear: Dangerous Sports and Jack-Bot have been played into ten billions and Williams Johnny Mnemonic and Miday/Bally Attack from Mars, have been played into one hundred billion. Another recent curiosity is the 1997 Bally game NBA Fastbreak which, true to its theme, awards points in terms of a real basketball score: Each successful shot can give from one to three points. Getting a hundred points by the end of a game is considered respectable, which makes it one of the lowest scoring pinball machines of all time. The inflated scores are the source of one of the Spanish-language names of pinball machines, máquina del millón ("million machine").

Special scores Edit

    lists: If a player attains one of the highest scores ever (or the highest score on a given day), they are invited to add their initials to a displayed list of high-scorers on that particular machine. "Bragging rights" associated with being on the high-score list are a powerful incentive for experienced players to master a new machine.

Pinball designers also entice players with the chance to win an extra game or replay. Ways to get a replay might include the following:

  • Replay Score: An extra game is rewarded if the player exceeds a specified score. Some machines allow the operator to set this score to increase with each consecutive game in which the replay score is achieved, in order to prevent a skilled player from gaining virtually unlimited play on one credit by simply achieving the same replay score in every game.
  • Special: A mechanism to get an extra game during play is usually called a "special." Typically, some hard-to-reach feature of the game will light the outlanes (the areas to the extreme left and right of the flippers) for special. Since the outlanes always lose the ball, having "special" there makes it worth shooting for them (and is usually the only time, if this is the case).
  • Match: At the end of the game, if a set digit of the player's score matches a random digit, an extra game is rewarded. [63] In earlier machines, the set digit was usually the ones place after a phenomenon often referred to as score inflation had happened (causing almost all scores to end in 0), the set digit was usually the tens place. The chances of a match appear to be 1 in 10, but the operator can alter this probability – the default is usually 7% in all modern Williams and Bally games for example. Other non-numeric methods are sometimes used to award a match.
  • High Score: Most machines award 1–3 bonus games if a player gets on the high score list. Typically, one or two credits are awarded for a 1st–4th place listing, and three for the Grand Champion.

When an extra game is won, the machine typically makes a single loud bang, most often with a solenoid that strikes a piece of metal, or the side of the cabinet, with a rod, known as a knocker, or less commonly with loudspeakers. "Knocking" is the act of winning an extra game when the knocker makes the loud and distinctive noise.

The primary skill of pinball involves application of the proper timing and technique to the operation of the flippers, nudging the playfield when appropriate without tilting, and choosing targets for scores or features. A skilled player can quickly "learn the angles" and gain a high level of control of ball motion, even on a machine they have never played. Skilled players can often play on a machine for long periods of time on a single coin. By earning extra balls, a single game can be stretched out for a long period, and if the player is playing well he or she can earn replays known as "specials."

A placard is usually placed in a lower corner of the playfield. It may simply show pricing information, but should also show critical details about special scoring techniques. This information is vital to achieving higher scores it typically describes a series of events that must take place (e.g., shoot right ramp and left drop targets to light 'extra ball' rollover). Learning these details makes the game more fun and challenging. With practice — and a machine in good operating condition — a player can often achieve specific targets and higher scores and trigger exciting events.

Nudging Edit

Players can influence the movement of the ball by moving or bumping the pinball machine, a technique known as "nudging" or "shaking." After some experience in playing a certain machine, a skillful player is able to nudge the machine to make the ball bounce harder from a bumper or go in a certain direction. A very skillful player can shake the machine and cause the ball to bounce back and forth and prevent it from "draining."

There are tilt mechanisms which guard against excessive manipulation of this sort. The mechanisms generally include:

  • a grounded plumb bob centered in an electrified metal ring – when the machine is jostled or shaken too far or too hard, the bob contacts the ring, completing a circuit. The bob is usually cone-shaped allowing the operator to slide it vertically, controlling the sensitivity.
  • an electrified ball on a slight ramp with a grounded post at the top of the ramp – when the front of the machine is lifted (literally, tilted) too high, the ball rolls to the top of the ramp and completes the circuit.
  • an impact sensor – usually located on the coin door, the playfield and/or the cabinet itself.

When any of these sensors is activated, the game registers a "tilt" and the lights go out, solenoids for the flippers no longer work, and other playfield systems become inoperative so that the ball can do nothing other than roll down the playfield directly to the drain. A tilt will usually result in loss of bonus points earned by the player during that ball the game ends if it's the last ball and the player has no extra ball. Older games would immediately end the ball in play on a tilt. Modern games give tilt warnings before sacrificing the ball in play. The number of tilt warnings can be adjusted by the operator of the machine. Until recently most games also had a "slam tilt" switch which guarded against kicking or slamming the coin mechanism, or for overly aggressive behavior with the machine, which could give a false indication that a coin had been inserted, thereby giving a free game or credit. This feature was recently taken out by default in new Stern S.A.M System games, [ citation needed ] but can be added as an option. A slam tilt will typically end the current game for all players.

Trapping Edit

Skilled players can also hold a ball in place with the flipper, giving them more control over where they want to place the ball when they shoot it forward. This is known as trapping. This technique involves catching the ball in the corner between the base of the flipper and the wall to its side, just as the ball falls towards the flipper the flipper is then released, which allows the ball to roll slowly downward against the flipper. The player then chooses the moment to hit the flipper again, timing the shot as the ball slides slowly against the flipper. Multi-ball games, in particular, reward trapping techniques. Usually this is done by trapping one or more balls out of play with one flipper, then using the other flipper to score points with the remaining ball or balls.

Once a player has successfully trapped a ball, they may then attempt to "juggle" the ball to the other flipper. This is done by tapping the flipper button quickly enough so that the trapped ball is knocked back at an angle of less than 90 degrees into the bottom of the nearest slingshot. The ball will then often bounce across the playfield to the other flipper, where the ball may then be hit (or trapped) by the opposite flipper.

Occasionally a pinball machine will have a pin or post placed directly between the two bottom flippers. When this feature is present, the advanced player may then attempt to perform a "chill maneuver" when the ball is heading directly toward the pin by opting not to hit a flipper. If successful, this will cause the ball to bounce up and back into play. A related move, the "dead flipper pass," is performed by not flipping when a ball is heading toward a flipper. If done properly, the ball will bounce off the "dead" flipper, across to the other flipper, where it may be trapped and controlled.

Two Pinball World Championships were held in the Washington, D.C. area in 1972 and 1973 under the auspices of the World Pinball Association which also published a newsletter carrying results of regional tournaments.

In 1974, students at Jersey City State College wanted to make pinball playing a varsity school sport, like football was, so they started a Pinball Club Team to compete against clubs at other schools. They asked two other schools to participate. St. Peter's College took up the challenge, while the other school did not. [64]

Many pinball leagues have formed, with varying levels of competitiveness, formality and structure. These leagues exist everywhere from the Free State Pinball Association (FSPA) in the Washington, D.C. area to the Tokyo Pinball Organization (TPO) in Japan. In the late 1990s, game manufacturers added messages to some games encouraging players to join a local league, providing website addresses for prospective league players to investigate.

Competitive pinball has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the relaunch of both the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) and the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA).

Two different systems for ranking pinball players exist. The World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR) was created by the IFPA. The WPPR formula takes into account the quantity and quality of the players in the field, and awards points based on that calculation for the nearly 200 IFPA endorsed events worldwide. PAPA manages a ranking system known as the PAPA Advanced Rating System (PARS), which uses the Glicko Rating System to mathematically analyze the results of more than 100,000 competitive matches. Since 2008 the IFPA has held a World Championship tournament, inviting the top-ranked WPPR players to compete the current title holder is Johannes Ostermeier of Germany. [65]

PAPA also designates the winner of the A Division in the annual PAPA World Pinball Championships as the World Pinball Champion the current holder of this title is Keith Elwin from the USA. [66] Current Junior (16 and under) and Senior (50 and over) World Champions are Joshua Henderson and Paul McGlone, respectively. Samuel Ogden has become one of the most memorable champions in the PAPA tournaments, winning four straight competitions from 2004 to 2008 in the 50 and over category. [67]

The first part of a pinball machine's construction involves the wiring for the game's electronic system. A color-coded wiring arrangement is wrapped around pins and connectors on a circuit board. Technicians then follow through using a meticulous set of instructions to ensure that the almost-half mile of wire is engineered properly. During this time the playing field is set onto foam strips and a bed of nails. The nails are then pressed in the playing board as the bed raises and compresses them against the header. Afterward anchors come and are hammered into place. The anchors help secure a metal railing that keeps the balls from exiting the playing field.

After the main construction is processed, it then comes down to fitting a few lampposts, some plastic bumpers, and flashing lights. All of the wiring is permanently fastened and speakers are bolted into the cabinet. Along with this comes the most crucial tool, the spring power plunger, which is set into place.

Finally, a few other toys and gimmicks are added, such as toy villains and other small themed characters. Once everything is tested and seems to be running alright, the playfield is set on top of the lower box. The lower box on computerized games is essentially empty. On older electromechanical games, the entire floor of the lower box was used to mount custom relays and special scoring switches, making older games much heavier. To protect the top of the playfield, a tempered glass window is installed, secured by a metal bar that is locked into place. The expensive, unique, painted vertical backglass is fragile. The backglass covers the custom microprocessor boards on newer games, or electromechanical scoring wheels on older games. On older games, a broken backglass might be impossible to replace, ruining the game's appeal.

Solenoids Edit

  • Solenoids or coils: These are found in every modern pinball machine since the flipper age. They are usually hidden under the playfield, or covered by playfield components. By applying power to the coil, the magnetic field created by electromagnetism causes a metal object (usually called a plunger) to move. The plunger is then connected mechanically to a feature or accessory on the playfield.

Flipper solenoids contain two coil windings in one package a short, heavy gage 'power' winding to give the flipper its initial thrust up, and a long, light gage 'hold' winding that uses lower power (and creates far less heat) and essentially just holds the flipper up allowing the player to capture the ball in the inlane for more precise aiming. As the flipper nears the end of its upward travel, a switch under the flipper disconnects the power-winding and leaves only the second sustain winding to hold the flipper up in place. If this switch fails 'open' the flipper will be too weak to be usable, since only the weak winding is available. If it fails 'closed' the coil will overheat and destroy itself, since both windings will hold the flipper at the top of its stroke.

Solenoids also control pop-bumpers, kickbacks, drop target resets, and many other features on the machine. These solenoid coils contain a single coil winding. The plunger size and wire gage & length are matched to the strength required for each coil to do its work, so some types are repeated throughout the game, some are not.

All solenoids and coils used on microprocessor games include a special reverse-biased diode to eliminate a high-voltage pulse of reverse EMF (electromotive force). Without this diode, when the solenoid is de-energized, the magnetic field that was built up in the coil collapses and generates a brief, high-voltage pulse backward into the wiring, capable of destroying the solid-state components used to control the solenoid. Proper wiring polarity must be retained during coil replacement or this diode will act as a dead short, immediately destroying electronic switches. Older electromechanical AC game solenoids do not require this diode, since they were controlled with mechanical switches. However, electromechanical games running on DC do require diodes to protect the rectifier. [68]

All but very old games use low DC voltages to power the solenoids and electronics (or relays). Some microprocessor games use high voltages (potentially hazardous) for the score displays. Very early games used low-voltage AC power for solenoids, requiring fewer components, but AC is less efficient for powering solenoids, causing heavier wiring and slower performance. For locations that suffer from low AC wall outlet voltage, additional taps may be provided on the AC transformer in electromechanical games to permit raising the game's DC voltage levels, thus strengthening the solenoids. Microprocessor games have electronic power supplies that automatically compensate for inaccurate AC supply voltages.

Historically, pinball machines have employed a central fixed I/O board connected to the primary CPU controlled by a custom microcontroller platform running an in-house operating system. For a variety of reasons that include thermal flow, reliability, vibration reduction and serviceability, I/O electronics have been located in the upper backbox of the game, requiring significant custom wiring harnesses to connect the central I/O board to the playfield devices.

A typical pinball machine I/O mix includes 16 to 24 outputs for driving solenoids, motors, electromagnets and other mechanical devices in the game. These devices can draw up to 500 W momentarily and operate at voltages up to 50 Vdc. There is also individually controlled lighting that consists of 64 to 96 individually addressable lights. Recently developed games have switched from incandescent bulbs to LEDs. And there is general illumination lighting that comprises two or more higher-power light strings connected and controlled in parallel for providing broad illumination to the playfield and backbox artwork. Additionally, 12 to 24 high-impulse lighting outputs, traditionally incandescent but now LED, provide flash effects within the game. Traditionally, these were often controlled by solenoid-level drivers.

A game typically includes 64 to 96 TTL-level inputs from a variety of sensors such as mechanical leaf switches, optical sensors and electromagnetic sensors. Occasionally extra signal conditioning is necessary to adapt custom sensors, such as eddy sensors, to the system TTL inputs.

Recently, some pinball manufacturers have replaced some of the discrete control wiring with standard communication buses. In one case, the pinball control system might include a custom embedded network node bus, a custom embedded Linux-based software stack, and a 48-V embedded power distribution system. [69]

Simulating a pinball machine has also been a popular theme of video games. Chicago Coin's TV Pingame (1973) was a digital version of pinball that had a vertical playfield with a paddle at the bottom, controlled by a dial, with the screen filled with simple squares to represent obstacles, bumpers and pockets. This inspired a number of clones, including TV Flipper (1973) by Midway Manufacturing, Exidy's TV Pinball (1974), and Pin Pong (1974) by Atari, Inc. The latter replaced the dial controls with button controls. [70]

Other early pinball video games include Toru Iwatani's Namco arcade games Gee Bee (1978), Bomb Bee (1979), and Cutie Q (1979), [71] Tehkan's arcade game Pinball Action (1985), [72] the Atari 2600 game Video Pinball (1980), and David's Midnight Magic (1982). Most famous on home computers was Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set, released for the Apple II in 1983. Pinball Construction Set was the first program that allowed the user to create their own simulated pinball machine and then play it.

Most early simulations were top-down 2D. As processor and graphics capabilities have improved, more accurate ball physics and 3D pinball simulations have become possible. Tilting has also been simulated, which can be activated using one or more keys (sometimes the space bar) for "moving" the machine. Flipper button computer peripherals were also released, allowing pinball fans to add an accurate feel to their game play instead of using the keyboard or mouse. Modern pinball video games are often based around established franchises such as Metroid Prime Pinball, Super Mario Ball, Pokémon Pinball, Kirby's Pinball Land, and Sonic Spinball.

Popular pinball games of the 1990s include Pinball Dreams, Pro Pinball and 3D Pinball: Space Cadet that was included in Windows ME and Windows XP. More recent examples include Pinball FX, Pinball FX 2, and Pinball FX 3.

There have been pinball programs released for all major home video game and computer systems, tablet computers and smart phones. Pinball video game engines and editors for creation and recreation of pinball machines include for instance Visual Pinball, Future Pinball and Unit3D Pinball.

A BBC News article described virtual pinball games e.g. Zen Pinball and The Pinball Arcade as a way to preserve pinball culture and bring it to new audiences. [73] Another example of preserving historic pinball machines is Zaccaria Pinball that consists of digital recreations of classic Zaccaria pinball machines.

Some hobbyists and small companies modify existing pinball machines or create their own custom pinball machines. Some want, for example, a game with a specific subject or theme that cannot be bought in this form or was never built at all. [74] Some custom games are built by using the programmable P-ROC controller board. [75] Modifications include the use of ColorDMD that is used to replace the standard mono color dot-matrix displays [76] or the addition of features, e.g. figures or other toys. [77]

A few notable examples of custom pinball machines include a Ghostbusters theme machine, [78] a Matrix style game, [79] Bill Paxton Pinball, [80] Sonic, Star Fox, and Predator machines. [75]

Data East was one of the few regular pinball companies that manufactured custom pinball games (e.g. for Aaron Spelling, Michael Jordan and the movie Richie Rich), though these were basically mods of existing or soon to be released pinball machines (e.g. Lethal Weapon 3 or The Who's Tommy Pinball Wizard).

Pinball games have frequently been featured in popular culture, often as a symbol of rebellion or toughness. Perhaps the most famous instance is the rock opera album Tommy (1969) by The Who, which centers on the title character, a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid", who becomes a "Pinball Wizard" and who later uses pinball as a symbol and tool for his messianic mission. (The album was subsequently made into a movie and stage musical.) Wizard has since moved into popular usage as a term for an expert pinball player. Things came full circle in 1975 when Bally created the Wizard! pinball game featuring Ann-Margret and The Who's Roger Daltrey on the backglass. [81] In the movie version, Tommy plays a Gottlieb Kings and Queens machine, [82] while The Champ plays a Gottlieb Buckaroo machine. [83] In 1976, Bally released Capt.Fantastic, which had an image of Elton John on the backglass, playing pinball in a similar costume as used in the movie Tommy. Data East produced The Who's Tommy Pinball Wizard in 1994, based on the rock musical The Who's Tommy. This game is notable in its use of The Who's iconic songs, including "Pinball Wizard", sung by original Broadway cast members.

In late 1968 or early 1969, The Who played a rough assembly of Tommy to critic Nik Cohn who later writes Arfur (1973) about a pinball queen trying to pass as a male. [84] [85]

In the late 1970s the children's television series Sesame Street began airing a series of short animated segments, called the "Pinball Number Count". Each segment was different, and involved the ball rolling in different themed areas of a pinball machine depending on which number (from 2-12, no segment was produced for the number 1) was being featured. The animations were directed by Jeff Hale and featured music by Walt Kraemer and vocal work by The Pointer Sisters.

In Pinball, 1973, a novel by Haruki Murakami, the protagonist is obsessed with pinball. One of the plot lines follows his attempts to find a pinball machine he used to play.

"Little Twelvetoes," a 1973 episode of Multiplication Rock, centers around an intergalactic pinball game demonstrating the multiples of the number 12.

In 1975–76 there was a brief TV game show based on pinball called The Magnificent Marble Machine.

Tilt is a 1979 drama film starring Brooke Shields as the protagonist, Tilt, a young pinball wizard.

Nickelodeon used the pinball as their logo in the early 1980s. The words "Nickelodeon" were in rainbow colors against a huge pinball. This logo was used until 1984, when the orange splat logo took its place.

Canadian Football League running back Michael "Pinball" Clemons got his nickname due to his running style his diminutive size and extraordinary balance allowed him to bounce between defensive players much like a pinball inside a pinball machine.

Back In The Day, Pinball Was The Most Dangerous Game In America

The 1930s were a rough time for America. Hobo camps spread across the nation and the only remaining industry was clinging to a 9th-floor gargoyle on Wall Street, trying to mug investors on the way down. Every bank in the midwest got robbed at least three times by guys with insane names like Fancy Lad Donahue and Babydick Johnson. In New York, the Mafia was doing so well that it formed a board of directors, farmed murders out to a subsidiary , and generally seemed about a week away from incorporating on the actual stock exchange. Society was crumbling everywhere people looked. Naturally, honest Americans knew exactly who to blame for this disastrous state of affairs: gamers!

These days, video games get blamed for everything from mass shootings to unemployment to this article not being funny enough (look, those mines weren't going to sweep themselves). But video games weren't around at the time since everyone was too busy living in a real apocalyptic nightmare to invent The Last of Us. Fortunately, there was a new gaming craze sweeping the nation: pinball. It didn't take long for civic leaders to declare pinball machines "a tool from the devil" responsible for luring America's youth into lives of delinquency and degradation. America would remain at war with the "insidious nickel stealers" until 1976, when the nation's greatest pinball player was summoned to the halls of power for a high-stakes challenge: Make a single shot so impressive it instantly made pinball legal again.

Pacific Pinball Museum

The Pinball Machine

The pinball machine today is often pushed aside and forgotten when the gaming industry is discussed. Pinball has been regulated to the sidelines of American gaming culture today, but it has had quite the past. While unknown in popular culture, pinball has some surprising ancestors and has interacted with American society in some shocking ways. The timeline above shares a broad overview of the history of the pinball machine. For an in-depth look into the nostalgic game, explore the rest of our website!

-Cameron, Laura, Danielle, & Shannon.


1. Nellum Technologies, “History of Billiards,” The Billiard Shop, accessed March 16, 2017,

2.United States Croquet Association,”Croquet in America: From Backyard Game to Worldclass Sport,” accessed March 16, 2017,

3. James Masters, “Bagatelle – History and Useful Information,” accessed March 16, 2017.

4. Redgrave, Montague. 1871. Improvement in bagatelles. U.S Patent 115,357. Issued May 30, 1871.

5. “Pinball/Baffle Ball,” TV Tropes, accessed April 3, 2017,

6. Christopher Klein, “That Time America Outlawed Pinball,” History In the Headlines, November 15, 2016, accessed April 4, 2017,

7. “Humpty Dumpty,” Internet Pinball Machine Database, accessed April 03, 2017,

8. Dave Lifton, “The Day the Who (Reluctantly) Recorded ‘Pinball Wizard,’” Ultimate Classic Rock, February 7, 2015, accessed April 3, 2017.

9. Ann Struthers, “God, Ronald Reagan, and the Cosmic Pinball Machine,” Minnesota Review 30, no. 1 (1988): 52, Project Muse.

The pinball machine as we know it was not invented as much as it was an evolution of earlier games. The father of the pinball machine was the French game Bagatelle, a game played on a tabletop with marbles. It is believed that the game was first introduced in the United States by French soldiers who were fighting in the War of Independence. The term “pinball” was not used until 1936, but the evolution of the pinball machine started long before than.

In 1871, a Cincinnati inventor named Montague Redgrove won a patent for a spring-based ball shooter that would become the standard way that balls were launched on pinball machines for decades thereafter. The first coin operated machine debuted in 1889. Innovations came fast and furious in the 1930s after the introduction of two enormously popular games, Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball and Bally’s Ballyhoo. In 1933 the first machine utilizing electricity was introduced. One year later saw the advent of the automatic scoring system. And in 1935 Harry Williams created the first tilt mechanism. Prior to that time you moved the ball around the table by shaking, bumping or banging on the machine. (Something I continued to try to do as a teenager in 60’s.)

Gottlieb’s 1950 Knockdown, an example of one of the early flipper machines. Look at the space between those flippers!

5 balls/5 cents. The going rate in the 1950’s. Hawaiian Beauty is a 1954 Gottlieb machine.

Williams’ 1951 Hayburners is another example of an early flipper machine. Note the reverse flippers.

Pinball emerged as a popular pastime in the 1930’s. It was a cheap form of amusement in a country suffering from the Depression. Production of pinball machines slowed during World War II as most of the country’s manufacturing capabilities were focused on the war effort. Interest in pinball spiked in the post war period.

The authorities were not necessarily enamored with this new amusement. In fact some cities, including America’s three largest, banned the pinball machine as a gambling device. While modern day machines reward outstanding performance with free games, during the early years of pinball, prizes, including perhaps a beer or a pack of cigarettes, were awarded by the machines’ host. In the 30’s you might find a pinball machine in a bar, but also in a drugstore, barber shop or gas station.

Fiorello LaGaurdia, mayor of New York City from 1935 to 1944, claimed that pinball “robbed” schoolchildren of the nickels and dimes that they should have used for lunch money. There were also suggestions of mafia involvement. LaGuardia’s enforcers raided pinball halls, seized machines and destroyed them.

What really changed pinball as an entertainment was the invention of the flipper in 1947 by Gottlieb. It was first introduced on the Humpty Dumpty machine. The new flipper machines gave rise to what has been called the Golden Age of Pinball, from 1948 to 1958. The flipper also paved the way for legalization in those areas where the game was prohibited. With the use of the flipper, the argument went, pinball became a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Even so, legalization did not happen in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles until the 1970’s.

There was another new wave of more sophisticated machines in the 1970’s with the advent of the solid state electronic machine. But by the 1980’s, pinball began to decline as the machines began to give way to video games.

Gottlieb 1980 Roller Disco, an example of a “wide-body” machine,.

Three manufacturers, Gottlieb, Bally and Williams, were responsible for most of the country’s popular and innovative pinball machines.

Gottlieb Manufacturing was established by David Gottlieb in 1927. He introduced the first widely popular pinball machine, Baffle Ball, in 1930. It is Gottlieb that produced the innovation that changed the history of pinball, the flipper, in 1947. A few years later they produced the first multiplayer machine, Super Jumbo.

Gottlieb was purchased by Columbia Pictures in 1976. Columbia was later purchased by Coca-Cola and Gottlieb, after being renamed Mylstar Electronics, was closed down in 1984

Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball machine was surpassed in popularity only by Ballyhoo. It is that machine which gave Bally Manufacturing its name when it was founded in 1932. Bally’s contribution to the evolution of pinball included the first multi-ball machine, Balls-A-Poppin, in 1956. The company went into the casino business in the 1970’s. It began operating casinos and amusement parks (purchased Six Flags) and changed its name in 1992 to Bally Entertainment. Williams acquired the pinball division in 1988.

It was Harry Williams who invented the tilt mechanism and introduced it on a machine called Advance in 1935. Eight years later Williams founded the Williams Manufacturing Company. It was acquired by Seeburg, a jukebox manufacturer, in 1964 and renamed Williams Electronics Manufacturing Division. It was sold when Seeburg went bankrupt. It became a public company in 1987 and acquired Bally pinball. The merged entity also made video games and slot machines. The pinball division was closed in 1999. It is Williams that produced the Addams Family, the most popular pinball machine ever, selling more than 20,000 units.

By the turn of the century, only one pinball manufacturer was left standing. Stern Pinball of Chicago, which was founded in 1999, remains in business. Its market has changed so that a substantial part of its business is home sales. There are also a couple small manufacturers that have sprung up in recent years.

Williams’ 1993 Indiana Jones machine added some firepower to the ball shooter. Indiana Jones also included video clips

Williams 1994 World Cup. (The going price is now 50 cents.)

Bally’s 1997 Circus Voltaire was a product of the merged Bally’s-Williams company.

Modern Pinball History Timeline

- The first commercially successful pinball machine, " Baffle Ball " is introduced by Gottlieb.

- 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 ".

- 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-
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".

- 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.

Acknowledgments to the Internet Pinball Database and The Coca-Cola Company for some picture content in this article

That Time America Outlawed Pinball - HISTORY

The Mob, the Mayor, and Pinball

Why 20th-Century Law Enforcement Wielded a “Sledgehammer of Decency” on the Game Machines

By Michael Schiess
October 4, 2016

Soon after I founded the Pacific Pinball Museum, an ex-police officer contacted me, offering to sell a rare artifact that was once confiscated by the Oakland Police force.

The object in question was a Bally Bumper pinball machine from 1936. For many, this machine is the quintessential pinball experience. You launch a ball up a slanted table and try to get it to bounce off as many targets as it can before it drains back off. Bumper was the first machine to have electric targets that added points to your score when hit, and a totalizer that kept track of your score.

The officer took me to the Alameda garage of his recently deceased twin brother, who had also been a cop. The Bumper game was dusty, but looked like it still worked. The officer said that the machine had been set up here since they first got them, and that he had an identical one in his crawlspace. I asked when they received the machines and he replied, “My brother and I were Alameda police in 1936, when the Oakland cops confiscated these and gave them to us Alameda cops as gifts.”

Many people are stunned that pinball could ever have been considered gambling. However, if you play a couple of games on Bumper, which I quickly purchased from the police officer, you will see that even at a nickel a game, it’s horribly addictive and could quickly drain your pocket change.

What really made pinball gambling was awarding a prize for reaching a high score. In 1931, America was introduced to coin operated pinball. Almost overnight, pinball machines began replacing trade stimulators, which were mechanical games of chance that awarded gum or a cigarette that were designed to lure people into businesses, so they might buy something.

Pinball machines showed up everywhere—candy stores, bars, smoke shops—and many forms of award were given as prizes: cigars, free drinks, game credits, and of course, money. The payout didn’t happen like a slot machine. Instead, the proprietor of the establishment would handle the awards. Even if the card on the machine said “FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY!” everyone knew the storekeeper would pay up.

With Prohibition winding down, organized crime was eager to take on pinball as a more acceptable alternative to the highly illegal slot machines of the day. It was a cash business, and it was a good one. For almost 30 straight years, pinball made more money than the entire motion picture industry. To the public of the 1930s, it was a welcome escape from the dismal economic climate and offered a chance of instant redemption.

Nationwide demand was so high for pinball machines that companies could not keep up. During that time, over 150 manufacturers got into making the “marble games.” And it would be David Gottlieb’s 1931 Baffle Ball machine that cornered that market, as he developed an assembly line process for making the game.

Despite manufacturing advances, demand was so high that Gottlieb soon was unable to meet his distributors’ requests. One of the frustrated distributors, Ray Maloney, decided to make his own machine, “Ballyhoo,” named after a popular gentleman’s humor magazine. The game was so successful, his company name—formerly known as Lion Mfg. Co.—was changed to Bally. Although all the manufacturers were cognizant of the gambling aspect of pinball, nobody pursued it as enthusiastically as Maloney, who allegedly developed ties to the Mafia.

The most famous opponent of organized crime’s pinball racket was New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He had run on a ticket that opposed the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine and would serve for three terms, from 1934 to 1945. Living up to his promise to “Clean up New York City” he quickly declared war on slot machines. And after dumping thousands of confiscated devices into the Hudson from barges, he turned his attention to pinball.

LaGuardia pushing over the Bally’s Bumper pinball machine.

LaGuardia campaigned so relentlessly against pinball’s evils that it seemed like he had a personal vendetta against the game. He loved publicity, and posed for photos in which he wielded a sledgehammer, smashing the now illegal games amidst crowds of law officers. LaGuardia boasted that the hardwood legs from the machines were being fashioned into police billy clubs, perfect for beating the heads of the nefarious operators.

Of the many pictures of the mayor posing with his “Sledgehammer of Decency” the one that really caught my eye was not obviously posed. Here, LaGuardia is seen pushing over a pinball machine that seemed strangely familiar. Upon closer inspection, and after comparing various photos, I concluded beyond a doubt that the machine in question was none other than my favorite game, Bally’s Bumper.

In 1942, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the New York mayor had his final victory over pinball. He argued that pinball was a misuse of precious resources needed for the war effort, and successfully lobbied the Federal Government to ban the making of pinball machines in America. After the war, pinball manufacturing was allowed to resume, but the game had lost much of its appeal because of its bad rap.

Then, in 1947, pinball got a boost, thanks to the invention of the flipper, which was introduced by Gottlieb’s engineer Harry Mabs. Before the flipper was invented, the game was more akin to bagatelle, a French invention of the late 1700s, which was played with a cue stick the concept was to shoot the ball up an incline and arch it over a barrier to attempt landing it in scoring pockets. Bagatelle and successor versions depended on the initial shooting of the ball. Before flippers, the player had no way to interact with the descending ball and thus it was much more a game of chance than skill.

Ironically, LaGuardia died one month before the introduction of the flipper, which brought on another pinball craze. But LaGuardia’s legacy was so powerful that pinball remained banned in New York for nearly 30 more years. In 1976, responding to pressure from the industry, the New York City Council heard arguments about how the flipper had transformed pinball into a game of skill. The council chamber had two machines brought in and had a ringer come in and display how he could beat the game using his flipper skills. The ban was lifted and Gottlieb made a limited run of games re-titled “New York” to celebrate the decision.

But the flipper’s invention did not stop Bally’s Ray Maloney from pushing a new design that would bring back the gambling aspect to pinball. Enter the Bingo pinball machine in the late 1940s. Early models were founded on the goal of getting the balls into certain holes for game credits, but that quickly evolved into a Bingo card format where the flipperless playfield was strewn with rubber ringed posts and 25 holes to catch the balls. The idea was to light three or more numbers in a row to get awarded credits. Whenever you see a pinball game that has a three-digit credit counter, you can safely assume it was designed for gambling.

The way it worked was, if you racked up a significant amount of credits, you would tell the bartender or shopkeeper and he would cash you out by paying you for all the unused credits. The bartender or shopkeeper would then push a “knock off” button that would count down all the credits and zero the game for use by the next player.

These machines were soon declared to be gambling. And in 1950 came the biggest single blow to pinball: the passage by Congress of the Johnson Act. That law banned interstate shipment of “gambling devices” (including repair parts, manuals, etc.) except to states in which the device was legal. So, it now was a federal offense to ship slot machines, “one-balls,” and pinball devices into any state which did not allow them. This should have been quite a deterrent to the manufacturers and distributors.

But the game was too popular, and it thrived in the many states where machines were legal, and even those where they weren’t. Enforcement was uneven at best. In San Francisco, where pinball was never illegal, the Bingo games were singled out as unabashed games of chance that were draining men of their paychecks. But the police could not keep up with all the secret rooms and payola protecting the operators.

Complaints from angry spouses eventually convinced the powers that be to declare that Bingo pinball machines had to be adapted to play only one game per coin. Players hated the decision but mostly surrendered a few removing the modifications to make them play as originally intended.

Every time I get a chance to play a game on my Bumper, I look up at the museum’s poster of Mayor LaGuardia toppling the game. And I take a deep breath, pull back the plunger, and thank my lucky stars that his sledgehammer did not come down on my precious machine.

is the founder and CEO at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.

That Time America Outlawed Pinball - HISTORY

“Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball. From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all. But I ain’t seen nothing like him, In any amusement hall… That deaf dumb and blind kid, Sure plays a mean pinball” -The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”

In May of 1976 in New York City, Roger Sharpe watched nervously as city council members piled into a Manhattan courtroom. Reporters and camera operators had already begun setting up, eagerly anticipating the proceedings ahead. Roger, a young magazine writer for GQ and the New York Times among others, did not expect this kind of attention. He knew lots of people, from bowling-alley-hanging teens to the Music & Amusement Association, were depending on him, but didn’t realize the whole country would be watching. Roger had been selected for this particular task not only for his knowledge and expertise, but for his legendary hand-eye coordination. He was there to prove that this was a game of skill, not chance. He was there to overturn the ban. He was there to save the game of pinball.

On January 16th, 1920, the 18th amendment officially went into effect, making the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal in the United States. With that act of moral legislating, gambling became the next target. Coin-operated machines, usually associated with slot machines and betting horses, came under scrutiny. Pinball machines, with their recently-fitted coin mechanisms, became bright, and easy examples of “games of chance.” Politicians took to their pulpit to denounce pinball. Police raided parlors, bowling alleys, and bars that housed these machines. Politicians, literally wielding hammers, smashed these games to smithereens in a public show to illustrate that they too were “moral.” On January 21st, 1942, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia officially banned pinball in New York City and many other American cities soon followed suit.

Despite this ban, pinball designers continued to operate. While pinball was officially banned publicly, it was still legal to own machines for private use (not to mention rouge arcades and bars who placed pinball machines in dark corners in opposition to the bans). Companies like Gottlieb, Bally’s, and Williams proceeded to develop new innovations for their games, like double flippers, free balls, and electronic games. In fact, many localities regarded “free balls” different than “free games” and allowed pinball machines that had this feature to be used at public locations. In addition, the artwork on the machines became more elaborate and intricate, attracting new visually-impressed fans. Even in the shadow of the ban, the pinball industry had found a way to survive.

Which brings us back to the May morning in 1976 with Mr. Sharpe waiting patiently to enter the courtroom. He had been hired by the Music & Amusement Association (MAA, for short) to be their star witness in their pursuit to overturn the ban on pinball in New York City. Roger Sharpe, besides being a writer on the subject matter, was also a superb player himself, widely considered to be the best in country. He had been provided with two machines to prove his case, with one being a backup in the event that the first machine broke. While the MAA had been granted this hearing due to one committee member’s sponsored bill to overturn the ban, the other committee members were known to be against lifting the ban on pinball. The the MAA, the bill, and Mr. Sharpe were underdogs in this fight.

Upon entering the courtroom, Sharpe began eloquently to argue why the ban should be overturned, stating that while in the past, it may have been associated with gambling, this was no longer the case. It was a game that tested your patience, hand eye coordination, and reflexes. Quite simply, it was a game of skill, not chance.

As expected, Mr. Sharpe was asked to prove this assertion. Thus, he began to play one of the machines in the pinball game of his life. But he was soon stopped by one particularly grumpy councilman. Afraid that the “pinballers” had tampered with the machine, he demanded that Mr. Sharpe use the backup. Sharpe agreed, but this added another degree of difficulty. You see, Mr. Sharpe was extremely familiar with the first machine, having practiced on it a great deal in preparation for this hearing. He was not nearly as experienced the backup machine.

Nonetheless, he agreed and began playing on the backup. Despite playing well with the weight of a giant silver ball on him, the grumpy council member was not impressed. With the ban on the verge of not being overturned, Sharpe pulled a move that has become pinball legend.

Reminiscent of another New York sporting legend, he declared that if he could make the ball go through the middle lane on his next turn, then he would have proven that pinball is a game of skill- essentially, he was calling his shot, and staking the future of pinball on it. Pulling back the plunger, he let that silver ball fly. Upon contact with a flipper, the ball zoomed up and down, through the middle lane. Just as Sharpe had said it would. He had become the Babe Ruth of pinball and, with that, proved that there was indeed skill to the game of pinball. The council immediately overturned the ban on pinball. By playing a “mean pinball,” Roger Sharpe had saved the game.

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When Pinball was a 'Menace to Society' in America

‘You step into the little stationery shop – or maybe it’s the corner drug store, the restaurant, the saloon, the roadside inn or the penny arcade. Instantly, the glittering device – its name may be Red Hot, Lineup, Landslide, Brite Spot, Mascot, Three Score or Sporty of Scoop – catches your eye. You walk over to it, gravely study the set-up for a moment, then drop in your nickel and fire away. The lights begin to flash, the sparks begin to fly, the bells and bumpers jingle and whir. You are in the throes of the great American pastime – pinball.’ – Sidney M Shalett, New York Times Magazine (1941)

I grew up playing pinball. I spent many happy hours at my local arcade pushing quarters into the slots of glass-topped mini-worlds, often under the tutelage of my father. He taught me how to pull the plunger just so, how to wait for just the right moment to press the powerful flippers and send the silver ball careening on its way. It was a wholesome, fun way to pass a Saturday afternoon. When I recently told him that pinball had once been banned in much of America, I expected him to be shocked and amused. ‘Oh yes,’ he immediately replied. ‘Your grandfather was totally against playing pinball. He said it was immoral and tied to the Mafia and gambling.’

Though his response initially surprised me, it actually makes sense. My grandfather had come of age in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when many local and state governments waged a war on the newfangled pinball machine. And once the propaganda that something is evil has been absorbed, it can be hard to shake off.

Games like pinball have been played since ancient times. During the decadent reign of Louis XIV, restless courtiers at Versailles became enchanted with a game they called ‘bagatelle’ which means a ‘trifle’ in French. This game was played on a slanted felt board. A wooden cue was used to hit balls into numbered depressions in the board – usually guarded by metal pins. The game arrived in America in the 19 th century, and by the turn of the 20 th century attempts were being made to commercialise the game. According to Edward Trapunski, author of the invaluable pinball history Special When Lit (1979), the first successful coin operated bagatelle game, Baffle Ball, was produced by the D Gottlieb Company at the end of 1931.

Soon the metal plunger took the place of the wooden cue stick, and lights, bumpers and elaborate artwork appeared on the machines. The game had arrived at the right time – the Depression had just hit America hard, and the one-nickel amusement helped entertain many struggling citizens. It also kept many small businesses afloat, since the operator and location owner usually split the profits 50/50. The game was particularly popular with youngsters in claustrophobic cities like New York, which boasted an estimated 20,000 machines by 1941. That year, one local judge who was confronted with a pinball machine during a case voiced the complaint of many older citizens when he whined: ‘Will you please take this thing away tonight. I can’t get away from these infernal things. They have them wherever I go.’

Although pinball was quickly vilified in many parts of America, the poster child for the vilification was none other than ‘the little flower’ himself: the pugnacious, all-powerful Fiorello H La Guardia, mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. La Guardia argued that pinball was a ‘racket dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality’, which took money from the ‘pockets of school children’. In one rant, he fumed:

The main [pinball] distributors and wholesale manufacturers are slimy crews of tinhorns. Well-dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery…I mean the manufacturers in Illinois and Michigan. They are the chief offenders. They are down in the same gutter level of the tinhorn.

Although to our eyes these allegations seem hysterical, there is some proof to back up La Guardia’s beliefs. After an intense crackdown on slot machines in 1932, there is no doubt that some gamblers turned to pinball to satisfy their wagering itch, which some manufacturers, particularly the Bally Company, facilitated and supported. According to Trapunski, the name ‘pinball’ itself was coined by reporters in Louisville, Kentucky, when they were covering a gambling case centred on the games. And, most damning of all, early pinball games did not have flippers. You simply pulled the plunger and the ball went where it wanted to go.

There is also the fact that with the repeal of prohibition in 1933, some organised crime groups did turn to ‘games of chance’ like pinball to shake down small business owners. Local officials purportedly accepted bribes to license the games. Ninety per cent of pinball machines were manufactured in mob-tainted Chicago. Many machines were owned by Jewish and Italian businessmen, who were unfairly branded as crooks. And, of course, pinball was a game loved by the young. All these things contributed to the public’s negative perception of pinball.

La Guardia and other leaders took these facts and ran with them all the way to the political bank. In 1941, La Guardia and the NYPD set up a much publicised ‘pinball squad’ of eight patrolmen to investigate the so-called pinball ‘racket’. In January 1942, New York Judge Ambrose J Haddock ruled that all pinball machines were gambling devices, and therefore illegal. Before the ruling could be overturned or stayed, La Guardia and the NYPD sprang into action. Within days, it was reported that ‘pinball machines throughout the city clacked and jangled merrily…but only on the backs of policemen ordered to confiscate them’. By October 1942, 4,999 pinball machines in New York City had been destroyed, and over a thousand summonses had been issued. The industry was further decimated that year when the American government ordered all manufacturing in the amusement industry shut down in order to aid the war effort.

The raids were a public relations bonanza for the wily La Guardia. The mayor could point to these raids as proof that he was tough on crime. The confiscated machines were broken down and used to aid the war effort and meet shortages caused by the conflict. In one radio address, the mayor explained that one machine could be turned into 77 brass buttons for NYPD officers. Portions of some machines were sent to educational institutions like Columbia to aid in electronic studies, while other parts were melted down to make bullets and bombs. At one public event, Police Commissioner Valentine of the NYPD, showed La Guardia police clubs which had been fashioned from the legs of the machines. ‘You see how nicely these ring,’ Valentine told the mayor, clanging two clubs together. ‘I’d like to hear them ring on the heads of these tinhorns,’ the mayor replied.

The pinball industry was not down for the count for long. After wartime manufacturing restrictions were lifted in 1945, pinball machines again began to flood into New York City. ‘I could not believe it was so when I read it,’ La Guardia, in the last year of his reign, exclaimed. ‘Commissioner Valentine, keep your eyes open and nab the first one that comes in. Just roll it into the station house and mark it for identification. Do not let them get a start.’

In 1947, the main argument against pinball – that it was undoubtedly a ‘game of chance,’ was negated with the release of the D Gottlieb Company’s ‘Humpty Dumpty ’ which included a now standard flipper. However, this didn’t matter to La Guardia’s successor, Mayor William O’Dwyer. While some on the city council fought to license pinball machines, claiming that they were simply harmless amusements, O’Dwyer responded, ‘over my dead body’. So on 1 July 1948, a law declaring pinball illegal in the city of New York officially went into effect. Photos of policemen smashing up confiscated machines filled the local papers, and those in the pinball trade, mostly small business people and veterans, were again dragged into court and fined.

These scenes were replicated all over America during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and largely supported by much of the public, who like my grandfather, had been thoroughly convinced of pinball’s moral rottenness. The game was banned in Los Angeles, Atlanta and even Chicago.

Decades after pinball machines had lost any of their purported ties to organised crime or gambling, the bans remained, vestiges of a bygone prejudice. As one New York Times reporter wrote in 1975, ‘with the state in the lottery business, the city taking bets on the horses, pornographic films being advertised in the press and prostitutes plying their trade on busy corners,’ the pinball ban was ludicrously outdated. It was finally lifted on 1 April 1976, but only after a pinball wizard named Roger Sharpe proved to some elderly sceptics on the New York City Council in 1976 that pinball was indeed a game of skill. Other cities slowly lifted their bans as well, though remarkably the city of Oakland, California did not follow suit until 2014.

Moral outrage over flimsy issues can often be a dangerous diversion, falsely soothing our prejudices and fears. In times of change and uncertainty, politicians and moral leaders often vilify products that give some people pleasure. Railing against video games or vibrators or vending machines is a way to concentrate anger, to make people feel their governments can actually get something done, that the world is not as out of their control as appears to be.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Things that were once illegal in America

When it comes to the rule of law, the United States has often been regarded as being relatively lenient. While some countries have such rules as banning residents from chewing gum or preventing women from being able to drive (until very recently), America prides itself on its tenets of freedom.

But the American laws of today have in part been a result of trial and error—whether through establishment of new amendments or abolishment of rulings that the government later felt were archaic. Many today might find it hard to imagine they were even written into law in the first place. Using a variety of sources, Stacker found 30 things that were once illegal in America. Some have been widely publicized or featured prominently in history books while others may be more surprising.

From 1920 to 1933, the United States government issued a ban on the production, importation, and sale of alcohol. Religious members of government hoped the 18th Amendment would promote temperance and believed its passing to be a moral victory. But the rise in bootleg spirits and a gang violence led to the repeal of the 18th—and ratification of the 21st Amendment—13 years later.

Interracial marriage and sex, known as miscegenation, was outlawed since before the United States was established as a country. But in 1967, anti-miscegenation laws were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case. Today, marriages are more diverse than ever—as of a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis, nearly 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity.

Sunday laws, which are also known as Blue Laws, are laws which restrict activities on Sundays for religious reasons. They have been struck down and upheld all over the county since the 19th century. One of these blue laws restricted people from buying or selling goods on Sundays to promote it as a day of rest. Though many counties opted out in this in the mid-1960s, it is still in effect in communities like Bergen, N.J.

Before the 21st century, it was illegal for Floridians to buy any beers that were 15.5 ounces. The state law stated that “[a]ll malt beverages packaged in individual containers sold or offered for sale by vendors at retail in this state” to be “in individual containers containing only 8, 12, 16, or 32 ounces of such malt beverages.” This was thought to be to either restrict the sale of European brews—whose milliliter bottles didn’t convert to whole numbers in the U.S.—or because it was easier for taxation. But this wording was erased in 2001.

Several states used to have bans on fortune telling. In Nebraska, a case went to the Court of Appeals in which a man was charged with running an illegal fortune-telling business. The law was overturned after he argued it violated the First Amendment, but the law is still present in states such as Pennsylvania.

Both married couples and single women were prohibited from using birth control before 1965—and in following years, it remained illegal in 26 states for unmarried women. The Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional in Griswold v. Connecticut, and today “the pill” is used by around 10 million women each year not to mention other hormonal and non-hormonal method).

A group was tasked in 1999 to get rid of some of Michigan’s archaic, bizarre laws that were still in effect. One that was still on the books until 2015 was the law prohibiting “reproachful or contemptuous language” in print against anyone who declines a duel challenge.

Another of these Michigan laws was that “The Star-Spangled Banner” could not be played “for dancing.” This was repealed in 2015.

Citizens also could not play the song in any public place, including theaters, cinemas, and restaurants, without performing it in its entirety.

Not only was dancing to the national anthem in Michigan illegal before 2015, but performing the song with any embellishments was as well.

Despite the fact that it’s legal to drink from an open alcohol container in public in New Orleans, it was illegal in the state to buy or sell a 100 milliliter mini bottle of liquor until 2014.

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