Saturday, September 16, 2006


What we know today as pinball had its humble beginnings in the 19th century as a game called bagatelle. You probably played with a bagatelle when you were a kid -- it's one of those little hand held games with a spring loaded plunger that challenges you to drop a marble into a hole or specified slot.

The early bagatelles had metal "pins" to deflect the marble and a miniature pool cue used to shoot the marble onto the playing board. In the early 1870s the pool cue was replaced by the spring loaded plunger. Bells were also added at this time, which made the game waaaaay more exciting (and annoying to those who were trying to do something else).

Coin mechanisms were introduced to the wormarket ld in 1889 and it wasn't long before it began to show up on the bagatelle. This effectively moved the game from the parlor into the saloons and pool halls, with the proprietor paying prizes for high scores.

It wasn't until the early 1930s that bagatelles grew legs, allowing the player to stand up to play. Three of the most significant changes came shortly after -- electricity, bumpers and flippers. The electricity allowed for all kinds of bells and whistles as well as a "totalizer" which kept score, not to mention a "tilt" device which disallowed too much nudging (i.e. cheating) by the player.

Pinball was considered a game of luck rather than a game of skill; and since there were cash prizes, it was frowned upon by the anti-gambling set. On January 21, 1942, pinball was banned in New York City. Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia publicly smashed a number of machines before a supportive audience. The ban was finally lifted in 1976.

Pinball continues to evolve. Everything is ditigized now, of course, and there are numerous pinball simulation games available for the more sedentary player. Only one company manufactures traditional stand-alone pinball machines today, Stern Pinball.



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