Tilt! Pinball, Fonzie and the Windy City…

Posted by on April 25, 2008


I was reading the NYTimes this morning and ran across a great article on Pinball. Although not as popular in the age of Xboxes, Wii’s, and PlayStations, pinball is a modern survivor and remains extremely popular when it can be found!

With a history dating back to at least medieval times, pinball really “took” off in the 1930’s and 1940’s, especially in the United States, where manufacturing of the games seemingly was centered in the Windy City (Chicago).

While today’s pinball machines sprawl with computerized movements and assemblies, the older machines were almost entirely different, being a mix of mechanical and electrical components.


Some of the biggest changes in the games came about during the 1940’s. Harry Williams, founder of the great pinball company Williams Manufacturing, introduced the “tilt” function to the pinball machine. As mentioned on Wikipedia, this changed the playing options. His company’s machine:

“…often included innovative features and pinball firsts, such as mechanical reel scoring and the “add-a-ball” feature for locations that didn’t allow game replays….”



Another manufacturing company, Gottlieb, introduced “flippers” to help keep the ball in use. Other interesting changes from manufacturers included more than one ball playing as well as lights and electronic displays.

As a side note, I saw this quote from the Wikipedia article about one of my favorite TV shows growing up:

“…Happy Days‘ Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli often played a “Nip-It” pinball at Arnold’s Drive-In. This is notable only as the show was set in the 1950s while Nip-It was created in the 1970s…..”

I’ve assembled some great links below. One of the sites has excellent photographs of many of the machines, however, due to copyright restrictions, I could not reproduce them here. It’s well worth a few minutes to take a quick look at the site however.

Have a great day, see you tomorrow!


Wikipedia: Pinball

Internet Pinball Database

Microsoft: Pinball Arcade

Pinball Archive: Links List


(1)Photo courtesy Wikipedia: author: Bobak Ha’Eri. Creative Commons license.

(2)LOC: Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

(3)Wikipedia: Pinball


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