Pinball machines have a complex history. The roots of the modern pinball machines that you use at your local café come from games like croquet and billiards, which consist of guiding a ball to a precise location by hitting it with an instrument. However, the true spiritual ancestor of modern pinball machines was the game of Bagatelle. Developed in France during the 18th century, the game consisted of inserting balls into the holes on one side of the board with a stick or a cue stick. The board surface was sloped and obstacles were placed in front of the holes to provide a more challenging experience. Many of these features have been adapted and can be seen on modern pinball machines.
In the 19th century, an inventor named Redgrave took the Bagatelle game design and improved it. One of its additions, still visible today, is the plunger: a device that threw the ball down an inclined field. However, once the ball was released from the plunger, the user could no longer interact with the ball, as the fins for the pinball machine had not yet been developed. This led people to bet on the outcome that the ball would face. As a result, pinball machines were banned in many parts of the United States, including New York City from 1940 to 1976. The ban on the machines ended in a famous case in which Roger Sharpe claimed that the balls could be controlled. with ability. (with the addition of fins) and they were not based solely on luck. On a pinball machine present in the courtroom, he announced where he was going to hit the ball and proceeded to do so successfully.
The 1930s saw a lot of innovation in terms of pinball machine design. The machines now included limited electronic functions, such as basic sounds and the ability to propel the ball without user force. Several new features were also introduced at this time, such as the tilt mechanism and free games. These new features were groundbreaking for those days and sparked renewed interest in pinball machines. The “Humpty-Dumpty” pinball machine was the first pinball machine to include fins. This meant that users could now play a ball for a longer period of time and introduced the whole aspect of skill and control of the ball while playing pinball.
However, with video games that were developed in the 1980s, they were quickly pushed aside in arcades to make way for the innovation brought by the video game industry. Many companies that had made their fortunes from making pinball machines were forced to close. It was only in the 1990s that pinball machines made a comeback, bringing exciting innovations to the machines, such as complex displays and sound systems.
However, the turn of the millennium was a turn for the worse for pinball machines, and sales reported by many manufacturers were falling dramatically. Most manufacturing was forced to close once again. Today, Stem Pinball is the only manufacturer left in the industry. We will have to wait and see if they can bring innovation to an industry that has seen so many ups and downs.