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Pinball Feature Story

75 Years Ago Today - The Ballyhoo Banquet Pinball Feature Story Number VIII

Being a prisoner of dates, I am always wondering what special events happened on a certain day. I remember birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, historical dates more than I should. Case in point would be the reason for this story. But this one is special to me.

For it was 75 years ago today (February 24, 1932) at the now long gone Hotel Sherman in Chicago, that the Coin Machine Manufacturers Association (CMMA) Annual Banquet was held. What makes this special to me is the fact that I have an original photo print taken from that banquet hanging on my wall in the basement.

1932 CMMA Show

Until recently, I couldn't really admire the photo that well as I had a 1935 Bally Traffic game preventing me from getting close. I sold that game recently so was able to admire the photo up close. As I gazed at it a week ago I noticed the date - February 24, 1932.

Well I waited for the 75th anniversary day (today as I write this) and couldn't let the day go by without "recognizing" the photo and event. I hauled my wife and daughters away from their computers and TV sets and force-marched them into the basement to admire the photo and drill some pinball history into their heads.

Fake groaning aside to hide their assured glee, I carefully pointed out all of the famous faces of the banquet ball room photo. Hundreds of coin-op men posing for the camera. My family was thrilled and I felt like my duty to history had been done. But why stop there? Better share it with the pinheads as well.

First of all, what makes this photo a great piece of history is that it captures the pinball industry people at a very early embryonic stage. This was the first CMMA show to exhibit pinball machines, which did not really exist in any large quantities the year before (Whiffle and other pioneering games excepted of course).

1932 CMMA Show

Can you find Dave Gottlieb in this part of the picture?

It is really fun to scan all of the faces and see who I can make out. The ones I have identified are David Gottlieb and one of his brothers, future industry historian Bill Gersh, distributor H F Moseley, David Rockola (still a year or two away from giving us World's Series, Jigsaw and other classics), distributor and show organizer Joe Huber, Tom "Thumb" Watling of slot machine fame, Walter Tratsch - the "T" in ABT and Jimmy Johnson.

Baffle Ball

This was during the Great Depression and also the end of the prohibition period (yet bottles of wine can be seen on the tables - non-alcoholic I'm sure). Pinball was a shot in the arm for the coin machine industry. I wonder how many of the people in the room that night knew that was going to be the case? Could they imagine that 75 years later, over 4000 different models of machine would have been produced and that people would care about the game so much (and that some boob would have the picture on his wall and write about it over a medium that didn't exist then [the Internet] using a tool that hadn't yet been conceived weither [the personal computer])?

How I acquired this photo (and another NACOMM banquet photo from 1935) was pure luck. A lady was selling them, mounted in their original frames, on ebay a few years ago and I managed to win a bidding war against one other fellow. She had bought them for their frames (!) for a couple of bucks each at a Salvation Army store or similar. Thank heavens she didn't chuck the photos and replace them with interesting images of flowers or wheat blowing in the breeze.

1932 - 1935 CMMA Shows

The 1932 CMMA and 1935 NACOMM banquet photos.

As to the show itself, Dick Bueschel describes the show in great detail in Encyclopedia of Pinball Volume 1 in Chapter 2. Ray Moloney and Ballyhoo took the show by storm with their flashy booth. It featured two colorful Ballyhoo games, but what really got the buzz was a 6 x 12 foot electrified Ballyhoo replica in the booth. What truly is amazing as a historical footnote is that the gargantuan game was electrified by way of an autofire kicker to plunge the ball into play!


To put things into perspective, the first production electrified game did not appear for at least a year and a half. The first autofire plunger? - perhaps the Gottlieb turret shooters of 1950. Possibly other games prior to this had a similar feature, but the oversized Ballyhoo would have beat them to the punch by several years.

And 75 years ago today, Gottlieb was selling Baffle Ball and the newly released Playboy. Bueschel reported that some 70 different games were shown at the show. Pinball had been responsible for boosting the number of CMMA booths acquired for the 1932 show exceeding the sum of all previous shows.

All in all the show was a great "kickoff" for the industry. The photo on my wall, taken 75 years ago today, will always remind me a little bit of what it would have been like to be there as it happened.

1933 Show

The photo above is from the 1933 show - not 1932 but similar.

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Last updated: February 24, 2007

© Terry Cumming, 2007