THE FIRST PINBALL BOOK?
THE HAWKINS THESIS
By Russ Jensen
(NOTE: Most of the illustrations in this article are not from the original thesis, but are actual photos of the pingames talked about, rather than copies of advertisements for the games)
What was the first book on the subject of pinball machines? Many pin-fans would tell you it was "The Illustrated History of Pinball" by Canadian author Michael Colmer which was published in 1976 (there was a company produced booklet called "Coin Operated Amusement" by Bally advertising manager Herb Jones - which contained a section on pinball and its history - put out around 1972, but that was really not a "book" and was put out by Bally to try to sell their products to the Italians). Around the same time as Colmer was released, a college thesis was compiled in Los Angeles and could possibly be regarded as "the first pinball book".
Which actually came out first (the thesis or Colmer's book) I am not certain, but at any rate I believe the thesis was certainly a "pioneer work" on pinball. The thesis, titled "History of The Pinball Machine", was written by Robert LeBrun Hawkins, and published in August 1976 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master of Arts degree in Industrial Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. I will attempt to describe in some detail the contents of this document which represent an early attempt at describing the early historical background of this fascinating amusement device.
Before I begin describing this scholarly work I believe a few words are in order concerning how I heard about the thesis, got acquainted with its author, and subsequently obtained a personal copy of the document. I began collecting pinball machines in the mid-1970's, and by the later part of that decade was really "getting into it". Among the acquaintances I had made at that time was a young coin machine collector named Dave Makekran. One time while talking with him on the telephone he just happened to mention that an old high school buddy of his had published a thesis on the history of pinball. He told me his friend's name was Rob Hawkins and gave me his phone number in Los Angeles.
That news really excited me and I called Rob almost immediately. He told me yes, he had written such a thesis and gave me all the particulars. I next called my good friend Ron Tyler who was a professor at another university (and also a pinball fan) and asked him if he could help in getting a copy of Rob's thesis? Through his university library Ron was able to borrow a copy of the thesis and we embarked on a project of copying it.
I took the borrowed copy to a local copy shop (in fact it took about three visits) and carefully made two copies of its over 200 pages (one copy for me and one for Ron). The only problem was that the "second generation" copies of the illustrations didn't come out too well. Well, when I called Rob Hawkins and told him about that he graciously agreed to loan me his "original" illustrations to copy. That was much better!
The final step was to have the whole thing bound. Well, Ron Tyler was able, through his university, to have both copies professionally bound, along with other theses from his university. The final product looked like a real hard-bound book (gold embossed title on the binding, etc.)! And that's how I (and Ron too) got a copy of what might be called "the world's first pinball book"!
After that Rob Hawkins and I became good friends (and still are). Shortly afterwards Rob met (actually it was through me) another young man, Don Mueting, who was trying to compile a listing of all the pinball machines ever made. The two of them (with help from others - including myself) eventually published a small book in 1979 titled "Pinball Reference Guide" which contained an alphabetical listing of over 2500 pingames (from the 1930's up to the date of publication) with reference to manufacturer, date of release, and historical notes.
That was followed in 1992 by a much improved and expanded work called "Pinball Collector's Resource" which is also out of print now, but Don and Rob are even now working on a significant update to that work! Rob, by the way, is a high school teacher, formerly teaching Industrial Arts, but now mostly Computer Science courses, I believe. Now to the thesis!
Rob's thesis is divided into six chapters, an extensive Bibliography, and three Appendices. I will now attempt to describe in some detail the contents of these.
CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Rob began by remarking that over the centuries man has devised various ways to amuse himself - ranging from "spontaneous inspirations" to "elaborately planned extravaganzas". He went on to comment that due to the Industrial Revolution man began utilizing his mechanical knowledge and new forms of energy to construct amusement devices by the late 19th and early 20th Century, sometimes attaching coin activating devices to them producing "coin-operated amusement devices".
After briefly describing an ancient Greek device which dispensed Holy Water when a coin was inserted, he told how coin-controlled vending machines flourished in modern times, adding that coin-operated "amusement devices" were also used in carnivals, etc., during the early 1900's. After noting that the longest lived coin-op amusement device was the "five ball pinball machine", Rob said that the U.S. pinball industry has been "very volatile over the years" due to many diverse factors. He then commented that there had recently been a surge in the number of pingames in the Los Angeles area, due to a recent change in the local law banning such games, then remarking that there currently was a lack of published works on that area of the amusement industry.
At that point Rob began to state "the problem" he was trying to solve with his thesis - "to produce a single comprehensive work related to the history of the amusement device known as the pinball machine". He then stated that its purpose "was to compile pertinent date regarding the origin and evolution of the pinball machine from its inception in 1929 to its present state".
Rob then stated two limitations of his study: 1) the study would only cover the "5-ball pinball machine" and exclude other similar games using balls, and 2) the discussion of the "legal problems" faced by pinball would be limited to the situations in Los Angeles and New York City.
A fairly extensive "Definition of Terms" section was next provided describing the special terms used in the thesis. This was followed by the definition of the "organization of the study", providing a brief description of what was going to be presented in each chapter.
CHAPTER 2 - REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The chapter began with Rob telling how acquisition of his first pinball game (Gottlieb's SITTIN' PRETTY - 1958) inspired him to search for information on the history of that type of game. He then told of performing several "library searches" which led to little except to a book on the history of vending - but that did not mention coin-op games.
Next, Rob went on, he tried searching the "Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature", which at first yielded little, but he finally discovered a magazine article titled "Mother Was a Pinball Machine" which gave some historical background information on pinball. He said he discovered from this (for one thing) that pinball probably evolved from the early game called "Bagatelle" - also discovering that the entertainment industry publication, THE BILLBOARD, was a source of additional information on the game.
Further reference to Reader's Guide, Rob commented, led to additional magazine articles. as well as expanding his "topic list" (which was contained in an Appendix to the thesis) which allowed his literature search to be expanded. He then commented that another reference work "The Business Periodicals Index" led him to other articles as well.
At that point Rob talked about searching a reference called "Index to Legal Periodicals" and finding numerous articles concerning legal problems involving both pinballs and slot machines. He then quoted from one typical article from "The North Carolina Law Review" titled "Gaming - Illegal Slot Machines - 'Silent Salesmen'". Rob commented that "amusement as a 'thing of value'" was "a battle often fought in the courts".
The subject of "trade journals" was next discussed as a source of information regarding pingames. Two of the best, Billboard and The Marketplace ("The Confidential Newsletter of the Industry") were then described in detail. Following that, three other lesser sources were listed.
After briefly describing newspaper articles from both Los Angeles and New York City, as sources of information for the thesis, the chapter ended with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 3 - THE BACKGROUND AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE PINBALL MACHINE
Rob began the chapter with a section called "Linking Pinball to the Past". He began that section by telling of one author who said that the origins of pinball were possibly linked to an early Greek game in which stones were rolled up a hill trying to land them in holes dug there.
The more likely linking of pinball to the 19th Century game of Bagatelle was next discussed (the linking of that game to stone rolling was even mentioned, however) - it even being pointed out that some early pingames were referred to as "bagatelles". The game of Bagatelle was described as "a game played with balls and cues on a special table ... with consecutively numbered holes ... with the highest numbers in the center."
A political cartoon was shown portraying Abraham Lincoln playing Bagatelle. After describing a reference to that game in Dickens' "PIckwick Papers", Rob provided a reference to a book describing Bagatelle in greater detail, as well as a reference to a similar game called Tivoli.
That game was described as being very similar to early pinball games, except that the ball was shoved with a stick, and it was not coin operated. After a detailed description of that game, an illustration was shown. At that point the similarities of these early games to pinball were stated. Those included: 1) the semi-circular shape of the top arch, and 2) the board contained numbered holes for the balls to land in for scoring.
Rob next related a story as to the origin of pinball from a 1935 Louisville, Kentucky newspaper regarding a man taking an old bagatelle board and fixing it up for his childrens' Christmas gift. He then pointed out certain 'flaws' in the story, and declared it to be "the product of the journalist's imagination". After commenting how the definition of the term "bagatelle" has varied somewhat over the years, a child's game (similar to Bagatelle) called "Steeple Chase" was illustrated along with its detailed "Instruction Sheet".
The next section of the chapter, "Early Pinball Machines", described in detail the most well-known of the early pinball-like games, attempting to answer the basic question "what was the first pinball game"?
The first game to be described was the counter-top turn-of-the-century game called LOG CABIN, which Rob began by saying was "probably the earliest machine to have similarities to the pinball machine of today". It was then remarked that the estimates of its date of production seem to vary between as early as 1884 and as late as 1910.
Rob next quoted from a publication titled "Tilt" (which was a 'catalog' for a traveling exposition of pinball and pinball art occurring in Canada in 1975) describing LOG CABIN as being made by pioneer coin machine producers Adolph and Arthur Caille in 1898. That article referred to it as "the first prototype of the pinball machine".
The quoted article further described the game in some detail as "a plain cast metal case covered by a glass plate shielding a playfield dotted with holes representing scores and obstructed by metal pins". The play was then described as "for a nickel a player shot a marble onto the field trying to land in a high-scoring hole to win a prize". The author of that article ended by remarking that the game was not widely distributed, not very popular, and soon disappeared from the market.
Rob next told of another article (from a publication called Famous First Facts) describing "the first pinball machine (toy)" as LOG TAVERN built in 1910 by the Caille brothers. Hawkins next speculated on whether the two writers were referring to the same game with some of the facts being mixed up, or if the second game was really a "toy" with s similar name?
At that point an article describing LOG CABIN by long-time coin machine historian, writer, and publisher Bill Gersh was quoted from in detail. After briefly describing the game, Bill stated that he had found a 'circular' for the game in some old papers once given him by coin machine pioneer Tom Watling, Watling having told him that LOG CABIN dated back to 1884! Bill then remarked that the game was very similar to what he called "the very first counter pinball" BINGO built by Leo Berman in 1930. He then compared various features of LOG CABIN with those of other pingames of the early 1930's.
At that point Rob began discussing the BINGO game, first telling of another article by Bill Gersh in which he implied that LOG CABIN and the Leo Berman BINGO were "for all intents and purposes, duplicates" - also remarking that the play action and scoring on both machines were the same. Rob then commented that "in the search for the first pingame the question to be answered is not the machine's links to earlier similar types of games, but more importantly, who originally manufactured the game in question; and more importantly yet, when it was first produced, patented, or advertised".
Information was then presented covering several versions of the "BINGO game", including a copyright infringement suit brought and won by Dave Gottlieb of D. Gottlieb and Co. After pointing out that to date no patent or copyright information has been found to confirm Gottlieb's allegations, it was stated that D. Gottlieb and Co. advertised their BINGO BALL game in Billboard Magazine in October 1931. Illustrations were provided of versions of that game by Gottlieb, a company calling itself "Bingo Mfg. Co.", and another outfit called Field Manufacturing.
The discussion of "BINGO" ended with an excerpt from an April 1932 issue of Billboard which said a patent for a game employing most of the features of "BINGO" was issued to a Nathan Robin of Chicago in early 1932. It was then commented that no mention of that person had appeared in any other article and it was not even stated with which (if any) company Mr. Robin was associated.
The story of another "early pingame", THE WHOOPEE GAME, was then related in the next section of the chapter. Rob began with the most widely quoted story of that game. An advertising solicitor, John Sloan, of Billboard was said to have discovered the idea for that game in early 1929 when he saw a device fashioned by the janitor of his apartment building from an old Bagatelle board for the amusement of his friends.
Upon describing this device to one of his Chicago carnival equipment manufacturer customers, The Indoor and Outdoor Games Co., they decided to manufacture the game with a five-cent coin mechanism added and released it in 1930 as THE WHOOPEE GAME. The game was said to be 48 inches long, mounted on legs, and sold for the whopping price at that time of $175!
A conflicting version of that story (although with many similarities) was then quoted which appeared as a "Fifteen Years Ago This Week" article in Billboard in June 1949. That article began by saying that "the mystery man in the origin of the modern pingame" had been discovered. It then said that "one of the contenders for 'the first coin pin game' was the WHIFFLE GAME made in Youngstown Ohio by Indoor and Outdoor Games Co. managed by the Burns Brothers".
The quoted article ended by saying that the game they produced had an "old bagatelle pin arrangement", and when it was displayed in a Chicago hotel an advertising man named John Sloan suggested they attach a coin mechanism to it. It then said the resulting game was called WHIFFLE, was copyrighted in 1929, and first advertised in Billboard in March 1931.
Rob then pointed out that that article had been taken from an article, originally published in Billboard in 1930, and that "serious errors" occurred in the "translation". The original article was then quoted from.
It said that there was an idea floating around the industry that the first "modern pin game" was the WHIFFLE GAME made in Youngstown, Ohio. It was said, however, that a Chicagoan, Jack Sloan, claims that the very first coin-operated pin-table was WHOOPEE made my Indoor and Outdoor Games Co., managed by the Burns Brothers.
After saying he is the "mystery man" everybody has been looking for, Jack is quoted as telling the story in which the Burns Brothers made some "tables with the old-time bagatelle game arrangement in hopes of reviving an old game". Sloan then said that when he saw some of those games displayed in a downtown Chicago hotel, he suggested to the brothers that they attach a coin chute and "get into the coin machine business". The article ended by saying that the WHOOPEE GAME was the result, being copyrighted in 1929 and first advertised in Billboard on March 28, 1931
After remarking that that article "clears the air somewhat" (and adding that other articles closely parallel the facts presented in it), Rob presented an excerpt from a "final reference" on the subject. He then quoted from an article, "Remember Way Back When" by a Jack Nelson which appeared in a January 1936 issue of Billboard - the article dealing with Billboard "advertising firsts" including things about slot machines, coin changers, etc. Rob indicated that over half that article dealt with the WHOOPEE GAME.
The portion of that article quoted indicated that the original WHOOPEE GAME advertisement was prepared in the middle of the night in a Chicago shooting gallery owned by a Nick Burns. It was also stated that a photographer had to be awakened to take a photo of the game. Rob then commented that that article "ties up the loose ends of the WHOOPEE GAME legend", bringing together that game, the Indoor and Outdoor Games Co. of Chicago, and Nick Burns. He then commented "WHOOPEE was first"!
Rob next stated that he could find no further information, patents, etc., regarding WHIFFLE, and as a result of the facts mentioned above several assumptions can be made, namely: 1) the first pinball game was some form of a "bagatelle board", and 2) the conversion utilized "the traditional scoring objectives of Bagatelle" (holes in a plane surface with score value labels next to each).
Rob ended that section of the chapter with the following comments. He said that there were "three historic innovations" added to the Bagatelle idea. First, the plane surface was slightly tilted (the balls rolling towards the bottom). Secondly, the scoring holes were partially surrounded with "hedges of brass nails", thus increasing the skill required by the player. And lastly, the balls were shot onto the field using a "spring-loaded plunger" (similar to what is still used today) and not by a cue stick as in Bagatelle.
Rob's final comment on the subject of WHOOPEE was that "the first documented pinball game quickly faded from the amusement machine field" Rob then attributed this to two factors: its large size (too large for many locations), and its high price of $175 for that Depression era.
The next section of the chapter was titled "One Cent Success". It began by saying that in 1930 David Gottlieb, who had been operating a string of coin-op strength testers in Texas, decided "to provide the nation with a newer form of pinball entertainment". And after winning his court case over Leo Berman regarding his BINGO BALL game, Dave decided to improve that game, coming up with a 'tabloid size', walnut-boxed game called BAFFLE BALL.
Rob then remarked that BAFFLE BALL used many of the same elements as its predecessor, but the difference was that it was the first such game to be mass marketed and nationally advertised! He then commented that BAFFLE BALL was "the first game to reach large numbers of depression-haggard Americans." He went on to say that because of the pressures of the time, all were eager to escape their woes and exchange one cent for the fun of shooting seven balls.
After saying that BAFFLE BALL "took America by storm" (50,000 being sold at $17.50 in less than a year) Rob commented that this was primarily for two reasons. First, it was cheap to play, and second the cost of the machine was low and operators could afford to buy it.
Rob next commented "competition quickly erupted" telling how in late 1931 Raymond T. Maloney convinced his partners in a small Chicago print shop "to join him in a bold adventure". This resulted in the production of a counter-top pingame called BALLYHOO - the name coming from a satire magazine of the period. Rob then said that at first those games were produced for them by Gottlieb, but when 50,000 were sold in seven months Maloney incorporated Bally Manufacturing (named for the game) to produce them. He then added that Bally sold the game for $16.50 to compete with Gottlieb's BAFFLE BALL.
An April 1932 article describing BALLYHOO's success was then quoted from. The article began by saying that since automatic games have "taken a place in the amusement world, attention should be given to the use of showmanship in their marketing". It then cited BALLYHOO as a good example of that, remarking that the game itself had "flash and ballyhoo". Rob then commented that the success of BAFFLE BALL and BALLYHOO in 1931 and early 1932 started "what was to become 'the first pinball craze'". This in turn, he went on, spawned a "boom" in the coin machine business while other businesses were going "bust".
It was then remarked by Rob that coin machines had been around for decades (maybe centuries) with vending machines somewhat commonly known since around 1822; but, he said, there was no "skill" involved in operating them. Pingames, he then commented, gave their users a chance to use their skill by skillfully ejecting the ball onto the playfield using the plunger, and then nudging it around the field to get it into the highest scoring holes. Also, he then added, these games offered their players "the thrill of success", as well as sometimes being able to win money, merchandise, or free games.
Rob then commented that pinball machines "became a windfall of copper and nickel" for their owners, saying that games like BAFFLE BALL and BALLYHOO usually paid back their under $20 cost in the first week of operation. He then said that although pennies are considered a "nuisance" today, impossible as it may be to believe, "fortunes" were made from them by the early pinball operators, adding that those "coin-operated Bagatelle boards" were to the 1930's what fast food franchises were to the 1960's.
An editorial article written by a Billboard coin machine editor who called himself "Silver Sam" was next quoted from, telling what he thought about the future of the amusement machine field after attending the March 1932 coin machine convention. Sam was said to have remarked that the convention "indicated clearly that the coin machine trade was predominantly amusement machine minded" and also that "pingames were far in the lead". He then attributed the success of the new pingames to four factors: action, suspense, skill, and flash.
Rob next commented that the success of games like BAFFLE BALL and BALLYHOO could also be attributed to other factors. First, he said, was their low price - a minimum investment allowing almost anyone to "re-enter the world of work" during the Depression. Next, he said their small size allowed them to be placed on counters in various retail establishments - their size also making them easy to transport. Finally, he commented that they were mechanically rather simple and required little skill to maintain.
Due to these factors, Rob went on, it can be seen why those devices were so successful during the Depression. And because of that success, a large variety of pingames began to appear on the market in the early years of that decade. He then said that by the beginning of 1932 the number of advertisements in Billboard for those types of games was often in the twenties or thirties! Rob then briefly mentioned several of those early pingames (SKILL-O, JOSTLE, VARIETY, HI-BALL, and LUCKY STAR) also providing full-page illustrations of their advertisements.
The last part of the chapter told of some of the typical locations where those early pingames could be found. These included: roadside stands, bus and rail depots, gas stations, cafes, drug stores, tobacco stores, and barber shops.
After commenting that "the competition between these early games soon became stiff", Rob said that to stimulate play, operators and location owners started offering prizes (merchandise, cash, or free plays) to skillful players. This, Rob ended by saying, led to the need for "anti-cheating devices" which "stimulated the beginning of 'the decade of innovation'" - the subject of the next chapter. The chapter then ended with a brief summary.
CHAPTER 4 - A DECADE OF INNOVATION: 1931-1941
(NOTE: This chapter contained 120 of the slightly over 250 pages of the thesis. This is not too surprising, however, as it mainly contained descriptions of the electro-mechanical devices used in pingames - and, after all, the thesis was presented toward a degree in Industrial Arts.)
The first "innovation" to be discussed in this chapter was "the mechanical tilt". Rob began by remarking "the very term ('tilt') brings a grimace of frustration to the face of any pinball player, even today" He then added that the term was descriptive of the game being raised off the counter and "tilted" in order to try and control the movement of the ball. After commenting that the first tilt mechanisms were simple devices that worked on gravity, Rob said that some were simple arrows under the glass which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT" when the game was "disturbed by the player". He then described two early types of tilt mechanisms, both utilizing small metal balls.
The first (and I believe the most common) type of tilt mechanism described consisted of a small hemispherical "well" located on the lower end of the playfield which, had a small metal rod protruding into it at its center, and containing a small steel ball of a larger diameter than the rod. At the start of a game the rod would be lowered so that its concave upper end was at the extreme bottom of the hemispherical "well", and the ball would seat itself on top of it due to gravity. When the game was ready for play, the rod (with the ball atop) would rise up into the "well". If the game was moved too much by the player during play, the ball would fall off the end of the rod into the "well" giving a visual indication that the player had cheated.
The other mechanism described used the same general components, but in a different (almost opposite) manner. The "well" in this case was at a slight incline toward the player. At the start of a game the rod would push the ball out of its seat near the back of the "well" into the front area of it, the rod then retracting below the hole at the back of the "well". If the player moved the game too much during play, the ball would roll back into the hole from which it had previously been dislodged thus indicating a "tilt".
Rob ended this discussion of mechanical tilts with several comments. After telling how they were easily checked by the location people to see if a player was eligible for any "prize" to be awarded for a good score, he remarked that these mechanisms greatly increased the level of difficulty for the player to achieve a winning game. Then, after remarking that those mechanisms were often so sensitive that a slight motion of the game could activate them, he ended by commenting that those devices were "in many cases, effective; in most cases, simple; and in all cases, clever".
The next section of the chapter was titled "Early Scoring Innovations". Rob began by telling how in the early pingames the only way of determining your score was to visually check to see the score marked next to the holes in which your balls landed, and adding them up in your head. He then commented that that method could result in errors and often disputes among players and/or the location owners. Rob then remarked that Bally was one of the first manufacturers to attempt to overcome the "score tallying problem" with their 1933 game AIRWAY, a detailed view of its playfield being shown. AIRWAY's score tallying method was then described.
It was then explained how each of the airplanes pictured on the playfield had a "trap-door" protected scoring hole associated with it, each marked with a score value. When a ball would enter one of these holes, its "trap door" would close, and the ball would move along an associated groove beneath the field, eventually hitting a lever which uncovered a small "panel" in a row at the bottom of the field showing the score associated with the hole in which that ball had originally landed. When the game ended the uncovered numbers shown in this row at the bottom of the field merely had to be added up by the player or location owner to determine the score of that game.
Rob ended that section of the chapter by first remarking that those early advancements (the "tilt" and "score tallying systems") were not patented because the manufacturers felt "it was pointless to pursue a long court action over a device that could become 'outdated' a month later". He then said that the introduction of electricity to pingames a short time later did indeed cause these early devices to become obsolete.
The next section of the chapter, titled "Bulbs, Bells, and Bumpers: Electricity Comes to the Pins", discussed the introduction of electricity to pingames. But before he began this technical discussion, Rob told a little about the "pessimism" that seemed to persist regarding the future of pingames in the early 1930's.
He began by remarking that (in the early 1930's) the onslaught of counter-top machines caused concern within the industry that public interest in these games would soon fade. Rob then quoted from two articles in Billboard which expressed that type of opinion, one even suggesting that the industry begin thinking of something to take the place of pingames in case public interest fades.
The author of a 1972 Playboy article on pinball history was then quoted as saying that Dave Gottlieb himself was pessimistic about the future of pingames - also suggesting that the name of his popular 1932 pin FIVE STAR FINAL was so named because Dave thought it might be his last! Rob then stated that Mr. Gottlieb was not at all pessimistic about the future of pins, and that "he stuck faithfully to amusement machines and had expressed openly his faith in the lasting quality of the pin-game principle". Rob then commented that FIVE STAR FINAL was possibly named for a movie of the same name released about that time. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: It has also been said that that game was most likely named for a popular edition of a Chicago newspaper.)
The next subsection of the chapter was titled "Battery Power". Rob began by saying that in 1933 electricity was introduced into the pinball industry, which "allowed several new dimensions to develop in the game". He then said that the first source of such power in pingames came from the "voltaic dry-cell battery", often using four in series to provide 24 volts.
Rob next pointed out that even though it was not until 1933 that electricity began being used in pingames, it had been used in other amusement machines as early as 1929. He then described several of the early electric coin machines. Rob then began discussing two reasons why pins were so late in starting to use electricity. First, he said, there appeared to be a reluctance on the part of people in the amusement machine field to invest in any new updated type of machine - wanting to see any new machine in operation and to know "how much did it gross last season"? Secondly, he went on, adding electricity to machines increased their cost which was an important consideration for operators during the Depression.
The next sub-section of the chapter was headed "Electric Automatic Payout", which referred to Bally's ROCKET which was released in September 1933. This machine, Rob commented, "attempted to alleviate the location owner's responsibility of issuing prizes completely", by using electricity to power an automatic payout mechanism to deliver coin awards automatically. He then remarked that due to anti-gambling laws being passed in some states around that time, such coin payouts made some games "illegal" and to get around the law some machines were equipped with "token dispensers" in lieu of coin payout mechanisms.
In the next sub-section, titled "Solenoids Provide Ball Action", Rob began describing the use of the electric solenoid to add some "action" to the ball - against the force of gravity. He then stated that the first game to incorporate this feature was AMERICAN BEAUTY put out by a company called Daval in June 1934. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Apparently Rob did not find any information on Harry Williams' famous CONTACT which used solenoid action in the early part of that year).
Rob then went on to describe in detail another early solenoid action pingame, Bally's FLEET, also quoting from a Billboard article describing it. He then commented that other similar games of the time also had "warlike themes" mentioning RED ARROW and BIG BERTHA (both from June 1934). He then said that other early solenoid action games of the time included: DROP KICK (10/34), REBOUND (12/34), and MAJIK KEYS KICKER (10/34). Illustrations were provided for several of those games.
After quoting from a Billboard article telling about Daval's BIG BERTHA, Rob gave a little technical information regarding solenoids. He began by describing them as utilizing an "electromagnet" (a coil of wire which produces a magnetic field when an electric current is passed through it). He then said that the solenoid actually consisted of "two main parts", the electromagnet coil wound around a hollow cylinder, and a "plunger" consisting of a spring-loaded iron rod inserted inside the cylinder.
When an electric current is passed through the coil, Rob then explained, the magnetic field produced by the coil causes the plunger to be violently pulled into the center of the coil. After the current is subsequently removed, he then continued, the magnetic field collapses, and the spring forces the plunger to return to its normal position. Finally, he commented that the motion of the plunger may either be rigged to mechanically pull or push an object to which it is attached, or simply strike a surface such as a ball or bell gong.
A brief subsection, titled "Electric Sound Effects", then told of early uses of solenoids to create special sounds in games, such as the ringing of a bell. Rob then started discussing electric illumination on pingames in a sub-section titled "Electric Lights Illuminate Playfields".
He began by remarking that lighting was the next application of electricity to pingames. Rob then began describing Bally's SKYSCRAPER which came out in December 1934, which was also illustrated. He said that the decorative theme of the game was a city at night, utilizing small electric bulbs to illuminate the skyline and the windows of a "skyscraper" in the enter of the playfield. Rob went on to explain that the lights were used in conjunction with a "score totalizer", with various lit windows of the building indicating certain scores. Rewards for skillful play, he then commented, were based on the player's success in lighting certain parts of the picture.
As an aside to the story of SKYSCRAPER, Rob mentioned that it was designed by a person "outside the industry", an E. J. Wohlfeld, president of a "long established machinery house". He said that this person devoted the better part of a year developing the game and had several pending patents on certain game features.
The sub-section ended with Rob commenting that the idea of illumination in pingames "caught on quickly", and by March 1935 many companies were producing games with lighting features. He then listed a few of those which had "light" incorporated in their names: LITE-A-LINE, ROTO-LITE, NEONTACT, KLEVER-LITE, and CROSS-A-LITE - finally commenting that the lights resulted in the games "drawing greater patronage then ever".
The next sub-section, "Battery Failure", told how the increased need for electric power in pingames (for solenoids, lights, etc.) resulted in the batteries they used having a shortened life. Rob remarked that to try to increase battery life "mechanical timers" were employed in some games to shut off the lights when the game was not being played.
A sub-section titled "Power Paks" described the eventual solution to the battery problem. Rob told how by 1936 many games used a device known as a "Powerpak" to provide the current to operate the game components previously supplied by batteries. He then described these devices as being powered from 110 volt "house current" and containing a transformer to reduce the voltage to lower voltages (usually 6 volts to operate lights and 24 volts for solenoids, etc.). Rob then added the comment that "rectifiers" were used in the Powerpaks to convert the 24 volts to D.C. (Direct Current) which was required by most of the solenoids used in games at that time.
Rob next commented that the adoption of the Powerpak was greeted with much enthusiasm, then quoting from an article in a trade publication of the time praising them. An advertisement for a typical Powerpak was then shown.
A brief sub-section titled "Transformed" described how it wasn't long before most game manufacturers decided that they could build their games using A.C. rather than D.C. components. Rob remarked that this meant that only a step-down transformer was required to power the games - the same type of power, he said, has been used in pingames from the mid 1930's to the present time.
The next sub-section, titled "Switching The Switches", began by Rob remarking that various changes to electric pingames were made possible now that transformers could provide "unlimited power" to the games. He then briefly described the "simple switch" which was made up of two metal contacts which pressed against each other when a ball in a hole, etc., pressed against one of them - the contact resulting in "the closing of an electrical switch".
By 1935, Rob went on, "three elaborations of the switch appeared in pinball machines" - the 'relay', the 'stepping switch', and the 'cam-controlled switch'. He then began describing the 'relay'.
Rob commented that the relay "is one of the most common electrical devices used in pinball machines" - adding that most average 30 or 40 of them. He then described relays as being made up of several parts including an electromagnet with an iron core, a "switch actuator", an armature, and a number of switch contacts (which he described in detail).
After telling how more than one switch can be combined into a "switch stack", Rob described the "switch actuator" which is made of an insulating material and can cause the switch(es) to be opened or closed when the relay coil is energized by an electric current. He next described how the actuator is connected to the relay armature which actually moves it.
Rob then described the sequence of operation of a typical relay. He said that when an electric circuit is completed in the game (providing current through the relay coil) the resulting magnetic field attracts the armature (overcoming the tension of a spring connected to it). The movement of the armature, he went on, moves the "switch actuator" attached to it which in turn moves the blades of the switches, thus completing or opening the electrical circuits to which they are wired.
Finally, Rob said that the switches remain in that position until current is subsequently removed from the coil. When that occurs, he said, the spring attached to the armature returns it to its original position, the attached actuator returning the switches to theirs. He then summarized the operation of the relay by saying that it is used to "take electrical current (allowed to flow by the closing of one switch) and "relay" it to several other circuits by causing additional switches to open or close". A typical relay was then illustrated.
The next variation of the switch Rob discussed was the "Stepping Switch" (the second most widely used active component in pingames) which he said was composed of two major parts called the "contact plate" and the "wiper assembly (or blade)". He then described these components in detail.
The "contact plate", Rob then said, was mainly constructed of an insulation material, but also contained "conductive paths", arranged in circular patterns, of either "copper runners" (similar to the conductors on a printed circuit board) or copper rivets. He then told how the wires from external game circuits were attached to them.
The "wiper assembly", Rob then continued, consisted of "a multi-armed piece of copper, or other conduction material" connected at the center of the contact plate. The arms, he continued, extended radially outward from the center of the wiper assembly to the point where they contact the copper runners (or rivets) on the "contact plate".
Rob next explained the actual operation of the unit, first saying that the wiper assembly is usually rotated using either a solenoid or a motor. As the wiper blades contact the copper runners or rivets, he went on, various electrical circuits are completed and then broken. He next commented that the wiper assembly is normally rotated in "steps", hence the name "Stepping Switch".
At that point Rob briefly mentioned the third "elaboration" of the switch he had mentioned earlier - the "cam-controlled switch". He said that that type of switch is opened and closed by having one of its blades ride on the edge of a notched metal disc. As the notched disc (cam) is rotated by a motor, he went on, the switch(es) open or close by riding up on the raised areas or down into the notched areas.
Concluding the sub-section on switches, Rob provided a couple "sidelights" on the use of pingame components by the military during World War II. He first told of an article on pingames appearing in a 1939 issue of The Saturday Evening Post in which the author commented that switches developed by the coin machine industry were used by the Navy to control torpedo and anti-aircraft guns. Another article from the New York Times mentioning "Uncle Sam's" use of pingame components was also quoted from.
The next sub-section of the chapter, titled "Pins Develop Bigger Backs", began with Rob commenting that as the complexity of pingames increased in the late 1930's so did the size of their cabinets. He then began describing in general terms the physical changes in pingames during that decade.
In 1934, Rob began, pingames consisted of a rectangular box with glass covering the playfield, some having simple legs, and a few having short backboards which only indicated the name of the game. After the introduction of solenoids, lights, etc., Rob went on, the inside of the playboard began to become crowded. At first, he then remarked, part of the lighting and scoring circuitry was moved into a small cabinet with a glass front replacing the "name board".
By 1936, Rob then commented, the first "illustrated" backglass was used on a game called PEARL HARBOR - prior backboards being decorated only with simple geometric patterns. He ended the discussion of backboards naming some typical themes depicting "contemporary life" of the period including: CHICAGO EXPRESS, TRAFFIC, FLYING TRAPEZE, and HOLLYWOOD.
The final sub-section describing advancements to pingames in the 1930's was titled simply "Bumper". Rob began that discussion by commenting that 1937 was the year in which "the industry was bumped from its momentary slump in innovations". He then began describing what he called "a totally new concept in the pinball industry" which was brought about by Bally Manufacturing.
Up until that time, Rob remarked, playfields had mainly consisted of scoring holes - balls landing in them remaining there until the next game was started (or occasionally kicked into a higher scoring hole by a solenoid activated kicker). In January 1937, he went on, Bally produced the first "pinless", "pocketless" pingame which was called BUMPER.
Rob next described the new scoring device Bally introduced on that game. He said the playfield of BUMPER was clustered with 12 posts each having a coiled spring hanging vertically from its center - adding that this device itself was called a "bumper". He then said that each of these "bumpers" could record the touch of a ball from any side of it.
Describing its action in more detail, Rob told how when a ball struck any point on the spring, it caused the lower end of it to close an electrical contact which advanced the player's score. He then remarked that BUMPER had several innovative features in addition to its unique playfield arrangement with its bumpers.
The most important of these other innovations Rob said was a "totally new method of recording the score". He then described this device as "a clever stereopticon device" - employing an elaborate back-projected system involving a lamp, an opaque disc with clear numbers which rotated each time a ball hit a bumper, and lenses to project the score (in units of '10') onto an opaque glass mounted in the game's backboard. He then commented that BUMPER also employed an electrified tilt mechanism which indicated by a light on the backglass if the game was "bumped too hard".
Rob then commented that the new electrical scoring system and the bumper introduced on BUMPER were soon adopted by other manufacturers, and that the success of this new idea caused some manufacturers to "refit" older games to that system - even Bally "reissued" its 1933 hit AIRWAY as a "bumper game".
The section of the chapter dealing with game innovations ended with some comments from Rob concerning how the pinball industry was affected by them. First he said these innovations made it possible for the industry to produce "games which were more interesting and complex enough to sustain playtime without the use of prizes and cash awards".
Rob then remarked that because many jurisdictions at that time were passing laws outlawing pingames as "gambling devices", manufacturers began to stress pinball play as a form of amusement. He ended by quoting from the pinball history and art exhibition catalog TILT from 1975 in which he said the author, Pat McCarthy, "summarized the period quite well".
The quote began by saying that in the mid-1930's pinball companies began replacing "prizes" for skillful play by automatic awards of "free games" - the locations soon discovering that this made the game more popular with players than the more difficult prize awarding models.
The author of the article continued by remarking that even though more people began playing for amusement, many operators still redeemed "free games" for cash. This, he said, "aroused in officials an antagonism toward pinball that persisted in many places to the present time". The quoted part of the article ended with a comment that many companies who had previously manufactured pingames began to "retire from the field" around that time - resulting in one of the "periodic slumps", with many manufacturers beginning to "diversify their operations".
That ended that section of the chapter - and will also end this part of my description of the thesis. In a future article I will describe the rest of the chapter, as well as the rest of the thesis. So stay tuned!
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