Arcade games began with 19th-century penny-in-the-slot- machines and have since progressed to the latest high-tech computer games. but the most iconic and long-lasting of all arcade machine is pinball, in all its glorious variations.

The first amusement arcade game was a penny-in-the-slot machine called Chimney Sweep, invented in 1871 by merchant seaman Henry Davidson (Britain). Such games became ever more popular, and the concept of the penny arcade was given a huge boost with the invention of the fruit machine by Charles Frey (Germany-U.S.) in 1889 and the kinetoscope by Thomas Edison (U.S.) in 1891. Another 19th-century influence on the invention of pinball was bagatelle, a parlour board game that involved rolling balls into holes to score points. The concepts of arcade machines and bagatelle came together as pinball in 1931, in the forms of a short-lived game called Whiffle and the ground-breaking Baffle Ball, invented by David Gottlieb (U.S.) after he bought the rights to a version of bagatelle called Bingo.


Baffle Ball was a game in which small nails or pins surrounded the scoring pockets-a feature that in 1936 gave rise to the generic name “pinball” for this type of game. Early pinball games were designed to sit on a counter, rather than being self-supporting, and there were none of the trappings associated with modern machines; players even had to tot up their own scores based on which pockets the balls dropped into. Even so, Gottlieb sold more than 50,000 games in 1931, a success rate that inspired one of the distributors, Raymond Maloney (U.S.), to invest his own pinball game, Ballyhoo, and form the Bally Company to market it.

Other innovations quickly followed. Players would often cheat by tipping the machines, so in 1934, Harry Williams invented the anti-tilt mechanism, originally known as stool pigeon, which comprised a metal ball that would fall into a metal ring if the machine was tilted or jolted, completing a circuit and ending the game. Bumpers, were invented in 1936, flippers in 1947, and pinball entered the computer age in the 1990’s with the introduction of “virtual” pinball played on a computer simulator.

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