Five Things You Did Not Know About the History of Pinball Machines


Like a considerable number of people, you may routinely find yourself on the lookout for some unique additions to your residence, items that will add a unique flavor to your home décor. When it comes to something that adds a dash of unique style to any number of rooms in a residence, a pinball machine can prove to be an interesting addition.

At first blush, you may dismiss the idea of adding a pinball machine to your home, unless you are outfitting a game room. Understanding that reality, if you knew a number of historical and other facts about pinball and pinball machines, you likely will find yourself eager to be on the hunt for the perfect one to grace your residence.

Add a Pinball Machine to Your Residence and You’re in Royal Company

The development of pinball machines are tightly connected to the long reign of French King Louis XIV. He was the royal who was also responsible for building the magnificent Palace of Versailles.

During the time Louis XIV was on the throne, of number of outdoor games were brought inside. These included bocce and lawn bowling. In time, these games were raised from being played on the floor of royal residences to tabletops. This resulted in what ultimately developed into billiards.

Eventually, and still during the reign of Louis XIV, some billiard tables narrowed and ended up having wooden pins or skittles located at one end, affixed to the tabletop itself. Near these wooden pins or skittles were holes. The objective was to send a small ball from one end of the table to the other, have it bounce off a pin or skittle and into a hole.

Sometime after the King passed, a final innovation was added to the game that resulted in it being quite like what is seen even today, absent the abundance of bells and whistles. That final innovation was the addition of plunger connected to coiled spring. The plunger was used to shoot the player’s across the board.

The Birth of the “Modern” Pinball Machine

The machinations during and somewhat after the reign of Louis XIV did give rise to what really was an honest predecessor to the pinball machine we have today. Historians and pinball enthusiasts trace the actual birth of the modern machine to the United States in 1869.

It was in 1869 that British inventor, who immigrated to the States, obtained a patent for his own tabletop game that had all the essential foundational elements of a pinball machine like we see even today.

Electrified Pinball Machines

At about the time rural electrification was running apace across the country in the 1930s, pinball machines also saw the introduction of electrification. In addition, it was also in the mid-1930s that the side bumpers on pinball machines became active. A player could use them to keep a ball in play or shoot to manoeuvre it towards a target hole.

The types of flippers seen in games today became a part of pinball machines in the late 1940s. The addition of flippers added an enhanced skill component to the game. In other words, practice and skill mattered when it came to playing pinball by the end of World War II.

Solid State Electronics and Digital Displays

The 1970s proved to be another juncture in time when pinball machines saw major changes. It was at this time that pinball machines saw the introduction of solid state electronics as well as digital displays.

Despite these advances in regard to pinball machines, this was also the time when the era of the video game started. No matter how rudimentary, video games released during late 1970s and into the 1980s caused pinball machines to be placed on something of a proverbial back burner.

The Digital Age of Pinball

In time, and by the 1990s, interest in pinball machines saw something of a rebirth. By the turn of the century, the pinball machine market was no longer dominated by the large manufacturers of years gone by. Rather, pinball machines were produced, and continue to be manufactured, by smaller boutique outfits.

In the final analysis, if you want to consider adding a pinball machine to a space in your home, you have a wide selection to chose from even when you focus only on the different eras in which the modern version of the game, and its predecessors, existed. From antique games to modern derivations, it is a fair statement that when it comes pinball machine possibilities for a residence, there is something for everyone.

Jessica Kane is a writer for The Pinball Company, the best online source for new, used, and refurbished pinball machines, arcade cabinets, and more!