The Devolutions Blog

Kids today wouldn’t understand the rush of playing pinball.  While they might groan at the sight of them today, the older generation simply adores them. These machines didn’t just pop up in the 1950s like many think. Its origin goes as far back as the 1700s.

No electronics needed for fun

The story begins in France when Louis XIV reigned supreme. To pass the time, people set up tables for a game of billiards. Playing billiards was simple; you take the stick and knock down as many pins as possible. In 1777, a party was thrown in honor of Louis XIV. During this celebration, a new game was introduced that swept France by storm. Bagatelle played like billiards, but it came with a huge twist. Wooden pegs got in the way of putting the balls in the hole. Bagatelle couldn’t simply be contained in France. The game was introduced to America during the American Revolutionary War. A handful of French soldiers brought some bagatelle tables with them to play during their downtime.

Making some big changes

In 1869, a British inventor named Montague Redgrave decided to call America home. During his stay, he originally created various bagatelle tables to be shipped out. Two years after landing in America, he had an idea. He wanted to introduce some spring launchers to the mix. With these launchers, people could kiss those sticks goodbye. That wasn’t the only change Redgrave wanted. Through U.S. Patent #115,357, he also wanted the machines small enough to fit at a bar.

After some work, Redgrave’s vision came true. By the 1930s, every bar had their own pinball machine. Every night, people were lining up to take a shot at the high score. The first big pinball game was Baffle Ball, which was created by Gottlieb & Company. With everyone being flat broke due to the Great Depression, games like Baffle Ball brought them joy. With 50,000 units sold in America, Baffle Ball became a hot item.

Sure plays a mean pinball

Following the success of Baffle Ball, more improvements were done to the machines. One major issue involving these games were people lifting the machine to get the ball in. To fix the problem, a tilt mechanism was created. This prevented people from possibly destroying the machine. People that continuously tilt would have their game end. In 1947, the almighty flippers were introduced in the game Humpty Dumpty. In the 1970s, digital displays were properly inserted thus creating the modern pinball machine. Around this time, playing pinball became the hip thing to do. The game managed to spill into pop culture. The Who wrote the song “Pinball Wizard” to impress journalist Nik Cohn, who was an avid player. Sesame Street includes a segment called Pinball Number Count, which taught kids to count via a pinball machine. As expected, The Count wasn’t that pleased about being upstaged.

While they’ve been disappearing from the public, people still remember their first time at the machine. “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like pinball, but I have met lots of people who say, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t know they still made those,’ or ‘Where do you get one? Where do you play one? That’s exciting to me because it’s something where people always get a big smile on their face and most people have a fond memory of it,” Stern Pinball director of marketing Jody Dankberg told Game Informer.

Fortunately, companies still make pinball machines today. They don’t do it to swim in a sea of money, either. They do it because it reminds them of those fun moments at the local arcade.