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Pinball Feature Story

50th Anniversary of the Flipper - The Modern Game Is Born Pinball Feature Story Number V

Part 4 of a 4 part series.

November 1, 1947. Fifty years ago give or take a week. Open up The Billboard at the back and it is flooded for ads for a fairy tale of a game advertised as the "greatest innovation in the history of pin games". And 50 years later that statement is arguably true. A game that had slowly evolved from balls, pins and holes had now taken a quantum leap to one featuring significant player control. The modern game was born, the game of pinball with flippers!

Humpty Dumpty

From the November 1st issue of The Billboard (note the misspelling in the first paragraph!):

Gottlieb Bows New Five Ball

CHICAGO, Oct. 25. - Dave Gottlieb, president of D. Gottlieb & Company, announced that firm distributors will begin holding formal showings this week of the new Gottlieb five-ball, Humpty Bumpty.

Game features flipper bumpers, which Gottlieb states is an entirely new principal for pin games. Flipper bumpers, say firm designers, were made to give customers more control of balls in play.

In Humpty Dumpty play when a customer releases a ball it rolls down striking scoring bumpers as in a conventional pin game. However, a hypersensitive control button on each side of the cabinet enables the player to motivate the flipper bumpers and permits him to send the ball back up to the top of the playing surface to try for additional scoring. With a little practice, the game's manufacturers believe that players can become accustomed to the principles of flipper bumper action and attain high scores.

Gottlieb also stated that altho the new product is made to withstand heavy location wear, the new principles involved will tend to make players forget about roughing up the machine in order to get "body english."

Firm reported that test location play had indicated that the new game will be well received by both operators and customers.

Humpty Dumpty was introduced to the world featuring no less than 6 of the new "flipper bumpers". It took the market by storm and non-flipper games were instantly obsolete. For a short while flipper conversion kits for the older simpler games were produced to extend their shelf life somewhat.

The two inch bats on Humpty Dumpty were used almost exclusively unchanged for over 20 years until the three inch bats came into vogue. The smaller flippers remain a key playfield object on modern games today however, although usually relegated to the upper parts of the playfield.

Following is a list of the first flipper games from the manufacturers (1, 2):

Name Manufacturer Date
Humpty Dumpty Gottlieb October 1947
Bermuda Chicago Coin Machine November 1947
Melody Bally November 1947
Cover Girl Keeney December 1947
Sunny Williams December 1947
Build Up Exhibit January 1948
Triple Action Genco January 1948
Wisconsin United November 1948 (April?)

The dates listed are approximate. Notice how all except United had a flipper game by January 1948.

And that concludes the story of the introduction of the pinball flipper. It happened 50 years ago. Sadly, the company that pioneered the flipper, D. Gottlieb & Co., closed its doors permanently in July of last year after being a viable business entity for 69 years.

Looking towards the future, the question to be asked is what will be the next "big thing" in pinball? What will revolutionize the game and take it to the next level? Will it be in retrospect something obvious, or will it require a major breakthrough in technology? Time will tell. We'll pick up the story in another 50 years!!!

References: (1) Pinball Collector's Resource by Donald Mueting and Robert Hawkins, Mueting Electronics 1992
(2) All About Pinball by Bobbye Claire Natkin and Steve Kirk, Grosset and Dunlap 1977, page 39

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Last updated: May 6, 2005

© Terry Cumming, 2000-2005