Take a look at the fascinating history of pinball, as the arcade classic goes through a resurgence in games rooms around the world.
The roots of pinball can be traced back to the 18th-century French game known as Bagatelle. Bagatelle was a table-based game that involved rolling a ball and attempting to navigate it through a series of obstacles to reach a target area. It’s easy to track to influence this game style had on the concept of pinball.
In the late 19th century, the addition of a spring-loaded plunger revolutionised the game. This development allowed players to launch the ball into play with greater force and precision, creating the more fast-paced game we’re now familiar with. The first coin-operated pinball machines, called “pin games,” emerged in the 1930s, though they were still fairly simple and required manual scoring.
The electrification of pinball machines in the 1930s and 1940s brought about significant advancements to the game, including the addition of bumpers, flippers, and scoring reels, into their machines. These innovations transformed pinball into a more interactive and engaging experience, captivating players worldwide.
The 1950s and 1960s marked the big boom of pinball. Technological progress continued, with the introduction of features like allowing play with multiple balls at once, drop targets, and illuminated machines. Pinball machines became more visually striking, with vibrant artwork and themed designs. Themes ranged from popular culture icons to sports, providing players with immersive experiences.
Further innovation came in the 1970s. Machines used microprocessors, electronic sound effects, and digital displays, enhancing gameplay and providing new opportunities for creativity. Manufacturers such as Stern Pinball dominated the industry. Stern was founded by Jewish businessman Sam Stern in 1930s Chicago, and his son Gary is still involved in the company, which continues to make pinball machines to this day and is the only company currently manufacturing.
In the 1980s and 1990s, pinball faced challenges as the popularity of video games soared. Arcade operators favoured video games due to their lower maintenance costs and higher profits. Despite this setback, pinball endured, with dedicated enthusiasts, collectors, and competitive players keeping the spirit alive.
Recently we have seen a resurgence in pinball’s popularity, retro and new innovative machines combining cutting- edge technology with classic gameplay. The advent of online platforms and pinball communities further facilitated the growth of competitive pinball and boosted its global reach.
From the humble origins of Bagatelle to the technologically advanced pinball machines of today, the history of pinball is a testament to its enduring appeal. The game’s evolution over the centuries reflects the spirit of human ingenuity and the unyielding passion of players worldwide. As pinball enthusiasts continue to cherish this beloved game, its vibrant history serves as a reminder that some pastimes transcend time and continue to captivate generation after generation.