Creation of the Pinball Machine

Bagatelle is the main antecedent to pinball. In 1871, inventor Montegue Redgrave was granted a US Patent for his “Improvements in Bagatelle”. [1] Redgrave’s patented changes to the game of Bagatelle included adding a coiled spring and plunger, making the game smaller and replacing the large bagatelle balls with marbles. [2]

In 1931, David Gottlieb made the first coin-operated pinball machine named “Baffle Ball.” The game could be played for just a penny. This version of the pinball machine jumpstarted the entire pinball industry. [3] This addition also lead to the eventual ban of pinball in several major cities from the 1940s to the 1970s, because it was seen as a form of gambling.

Image of Baffle Ball game
Baffle Ball, The Internet Pinball Database.

“The Bally Bumper” was a game that introduced bumpers to pinball. Bumpers consisted of coiled springs that the ball would ricochet between. Bumpers quickly became a staple in the pinball world. [4]

Thanks to Gottlieb’s pinball company, the year 1947 saw the addition of “flippers” with a Humpty Dumpty themed version of the game. [5] This added a feature to pinball that became an essential part of the game. It was thanks to flippers that the next decade was known as the golden age in pinball history. [2] It was also thanks to the flippers that the ban on pinball was eventually lifted, due to the element of skill now added to the game.

Advertisement for Humpty Dumpty pinball machine
Ad for Humpty Dumpty, The Strong: National Museum of Play.

It wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that electronic pinball machines were first introduced. This brought about a whole new wave of game innovations and features. Pinball machines began having themes that reflected pop-culture. Major additions included electronic scoring, alphanumeric scoring, electronic sounds and speech [6].

Nowadays, pinball machines aren’t all too popular. For some, they are considered valued collector’s items. The game is often featured in digital formats like console games or smartphones. Pinball machines made today often feature fairly advance technology, such as motion sensors or LED lights [7].

End Notes

1. Montague Redgrave, 1871, Improvement in bagatelles, U.S Patent 115,357, issued May 30, 1871,

2. BMI Gaming, “The History of Pinball Machines and Pintables,” accessed February 21, 2017,

3. “Baffle Ball (Pinball).” TV Tropes. Accessed April 3, 2017.

4. “The Invention of the Bumper.” Invention Bumper. Accessed April 03, 2017.

5. “Humpty Dumpty.” Internet Pinball Machine Database: Gottlieb ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Accessed April 3, 2017.

6. BMI Gaming.

7. James J. Frontiero Jr., 2014, LED pinball machine graphics display, U.S Patent 8,714,550 B2, issued May 6, 2014.


Baffle Ball, illustration, November 1931, from The Internet Pinball Database, accessed April 3, 2017,

D. Gottlieb & Co. Gottlieb Humpty Dumpty Pinball Machine, printed paperChicago:The Billboard, November 15, 1947. From The Strong: National Museum of Play, Video Games: More Electronic Games, accessed April 3, 2017,