I’ve played more than my share of pinball while working as a bartender in my early 20s. As an inventor I was curious to see who invented the game and how it has progressed. The invention of pinball is credited to several individuals who made significant contributions to its development over the years. While the exact origins of pinball are somewhat unclear and its evolution involved multiple inventors, the game has a rich history dating back several centuries.

Invention of pinball

The earliest form of pinball can be traced back to France in the 18th century, where it was known as “Bagatelle.” This early version of the game featured a table with pins and a small ball that players would use a cue stick to strike. However, Bagatelle did not have flippers, which are now a defining feature of modern pinball machines.

The modern form of pinball, as we recognize it today, started to take shape in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In the 1870s, a British inventor named Montague Redgrave patented a game called “Improvements in Bagatelle.” This game featured a tabletop with pins, a plunger to launch the ball, and holes with different point values.

Pin games

In the late 19th century, coin-operated versions of tabletop games emerged, including games that incorporated elements of bagatelle. These early coin-operated games were often referred to as “pin games” or “pin tables.” They were typically small, mechanical devices that used pins, nails, or other obstacles to guide the ball towards various scoring areas.

Innovation of flippers

The development of pinball as an electrified and mechanical arcade game gained momentum in the early 20th century. In the 1930s, inventors such as David Gottlieb and Harry Williams made significant contributions to the game’s advancement. David Gottlieb’s company introduced the first successful coin-operated pinball machine, “Baffle Ball,” in 1931. Harry Williams, who founded Williams Electronics, introduced the game-changing innovation of flippers with his pinball machine “Contact” in 1933. Flippers allowed players to control the ball’s movement and introduced an element of skill to the game.

Stern Pinball

Stern Pinball is considered one of the leading producers of pinball machines globally. The company was founded in 1986 and is headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

Stern Pinball has a rich history in the industry, and it has created and released numerous popular pinball machines over the years. Some of their well-known titles include “The Simpsons Pinball Party,” “Spider-Man,” “Star Trek,” “Metallica,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Deadpool,” among others. They have collaborated with various iconic brands and franchises to create licensed pinball machines, such as Marvel, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Game of Thrones.

The company is recognized for its commitment to the craft of pinball, combining innovative technology, captivating artwork, and engaging gameplay. They continue to produce new pinball machines, incorporating modern features and themes while also paying homage to the classic pinball tradition. Stern Pinball machines are highly sought after by enthusiasts and collectors around the world.

Pinball Wizard

You can’t mention pinball without thinking of the hit song “Pinball Wizard”. The story of the “Pinball Wizard” originates from the rock opera titled “Tommy,” written by Pete Townshend and performed by the British rock band The Who. Released in 1969, “Tommy” tells the tale of a young boy named Tommy Walker, who becomes deaf, dumb, and blind after witnessing a traumatic event.

In the story, Tommy’s inability to see, hear, or speak isolates him from the world around him. However, he discovers an exceptional talent for playing pinball despite his sensory disabilities. His extraordinary skills earn him the reputation of being the “Pinball Wizard.”

Tommy’s ability to excel at pinball leads to his rise in fame and popularity, and he becomes a sensation. People from far and wide come to witness his pinball prowess, making him a legendary figure in the pinball world. The “Pinball Wizard” character becomes a symbol of triumph over adversity and the power of an individual’s unique abilities.

The song “Pinball Wizard” became one of The Who’s most iconic hits and is often associated with the character Tommy and his remarkable skill in pinball. The song’s catchy melody and memorable lyrics helped propel it to become one of the band’s signature tracks and a classic rock anthem.

Over the years, since the invention of pinball, many other inventors, designers, and manufacturers continued to refine and enhance pinball machines.  This includes adding new features, mechanisms, themes, and technological advancements. Here are some of the innovations predicted in the pinball industry.

Innovation in pinball

Since the invention of pinball, the game has changed dramatically. It will continue to change as more innovations occur in the pinball industry.

Enhanced Digital Integration

Pinball machines could incorporate more advanced digital elements, such as interactive displays, augmented reality (AR), or even virtual reality (VR) components. These technologies could enhance gameplay, offer immersive experiences, and provide additional visual and audio effects.

Internet Connectivity

With the increasing prevalence of internet connectivity in gaming, pinball machines may integrate online features. This could include global leaderboards, multiplayer modes, online tournaments, and downloadable content (DLC) for expanding game options.

Advanced Lighting and Visual Effects

Future pinball machines might utilize advanced lighting techniques, such as LED arrays or projection mapping, to create dynamic and visually stunning effects. This could enhance the overall gameplay experience and add a new level of excitement to the table.

Interactive and Dynamic Playfields

Innovations in pinball could involve the development of playfields with dynamic elements. This might include moving ramps, changing surfaces, interactive targets, or mechanical devices that alter the game’s layout during play.

Gesture or Motion Control

Future pinball machines might incorporate gesture or motion control technology, allowing players to interact with the game using hand movements or body gestures. This could provide a more immersive and physical gameplay experience.

Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI could be utilized in pinball machines to create adaptive gameplay experiences. AI algorithms could adjust game difficulty based on the player’s skill level, provide personalized challenges, or even simulate human-like opponents in multiplayer modes.

Theme Integration

Pinball machines could continue to explore partnerships with popular franchises and brands, bringing licensed themes to life with custom artwork, soundtracks, and immersive storytelling elements.