Pinball in America

Pinball is the perfect marriage of America’s technological ingenuity and zeal for play. Although rooted in the 18th-century parlor game bagatelle, the flipping, flashing, and popping mechanical and electronic game of today originated in the 1930s. The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) develops exhibits and undertakes other activities to interpret the historical and cultural significance of pinball and other electronic games to ensure that present and future generations can explore that history, understand how it began and evolved, and appreciate the impact that pinball and other electronic games have on society.

Pinball in America

Click the image below to sample some key moments in the history of pinball in America. Many artifacts illustrated here reside in The Strong’s collections.

Interpreting the History of Pinball

Pinball has reflected changes in technology, social values, cultural politics, art, popular culture, game design, and play for more than 80 years. ICHEG is therefore interested in a wide range of questions and issues regarding pinball.

These questions and issues include but are not restricted to the following:

  • Where do the various pinball machines come from? What is their history? How did they originate?
  • What are the sources of inspiration for their stories and imagery?
  • In addition to bagatelle, what popular forms of play paved the way for them? What popular forms of play did pinball pave the way for?
  • How is playing pinball similar to or different from previous types of play?
  • Why were pinball machines banned in cities and towns across the nation at various times throughout their history?
  • Who plays pinball?
  • What is the social effect of playing pinball? Does it isolate people or bring them together?
  • What is the educational impact of pinball?
  • What is the effect of pinball on physical and mental health? What are the benefits or disadvantages?
  • How are pinball machines made? Who makes them? How does someone design a pinball machine? How are pinball machines manufactured? How are pinball machines marketed?
  • What is the future of pinball games? How are they evolving? How are they remaining the same? What forces are shaping them? Where are pinball games and pinball players headed?

The Strong has created a long-term, interactive, on-site exhibit, Pinball Playfields, to help explore these and other questions about the history of pinball.