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The origins of pinball are intertwined with the history of many other games. The evolving and specializing outdoor games finally led to indoor versions that could be played on a table, such as billiards, or on the floor of a pub, like bowling and shuffleboard. The tabletop versions of these games became the ancestors of modern pinball. It already has a spring mechanism to propel the ball, 100 years prior to Montague Redgrave’s patent. 1715 reign of Louis XIV, billiard tables were narrowed, with wooden pins or skittles at one end of the table, and players would shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end, in a game inspired as much by bowling as billiards.
Japanese billiards in English, was invented in Western Europe, despite its name. It used thin metal pins and replaced the cue at the player’s end of the table with a coiled spring and a plunger. The player shot balls up the inclined playfield toward the scoring targets using this plunger, a device that remains in use in pinball to this day, and the game was also directly ancestral to pachinko. In 1869, British inventor Montague Redgrave settled in the US and manufactured bagatelle tables in Cincinnati, Ohio. The game also shrank in size to fit atop a bar or counter.
The balls became marbles and the wickets became small metal pins. Redgrave’s popularization of the spring launcher and innovations in game design are acknowledged as the birth of pinball in its modern form. By the 1930s, manufacturers were producing coin-operated versions of bagatelles, now known as “marble games” or “pin games”. The table was under glass and used M. Redgrave’s plunger device to propel the ball into the upper playfield.
In 1931 David Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball became the first hit of the coin-operated era. In 1932, Gottlieb distributor Raymond Moloney found it hard to obtain more Baffle Ball units to sell. In his frustration he founded Lion Manufacturing to produce a game of his own design, Ballyhoo, named after a popular magazine of the day. The game became a smash hit. Its larger playfield and ten pockets made it more challenging than Baffle Ball, selling 50,000 units in 7 months. The 1930s saw major advances in pinball design with the introduction of electrification. A company called Pacific Amusements in Los Angeles, USA produced a game called Contact in 1933.