All about Electro-mechanical (EM) pinball machines

Pinball machines chiefly originated from the USA. The 1950’s saw rapid machine growth worldwide as people could find something to enjoy after the War years.

In time, some enterprising people discovered that these Amusement machines lent themselves well for gambling purposes. American law had strict rules against gambling, stopping the practice by rounding up machines and smashing them up; even banning them in New York right up to the 1970s!

As winning replays could be sold by players, machines were fitted with gambling warning labels. Some US States did not accept this, forcing a rethink to design machines and the ‘Add a ball’ was born; all a player could hope to ever win was an extra ball. These variants saved the day for manufacturers though making pinball pretty much available throughout the US again.

Gottlieb and Williams were prolific in the 50’s and 60’s producing thousands of machines, along with Bally and Chicago coin. Novel introductions were Bally’s ‘Zipper flippers’ in the 1960’s which could close shut to keep the ball in play; Bally had a revolving ribbed mat in the centre of the playfield of their ‘Fireball’ machine; it spun to randomly deflect the ball around the playfield, to give some very unpredictable play!

‘Animated’ games were also popular. These gave physical movement during play; like a revolving playfield target disk, a la Gottlieb’s ‘World Fair’ or ‘Fashion Show’. Or a moving item in the head of the machine, like Gottlieb’s ‘Buckaroo’, with its kicking horse hitting the backside of a cowboy to spin him around and around. Animated machines are sought after today, and command a higher price compared to a ‘Plain-Jane’ type machine.

Machines of the 1950’s machines used all wood cabinets and light scoring on their back glass. Known as ‘wood-rails’, many are lovely works of art, not only to play, but for their aesthetics too. Gottlieb used the services of their chief artist, Roy Parker. Many collectors today, consider a Roy Parker themed machine, particularly if a wood rail, is the one to own.

Williams had novel artwork too with the introduction of new ‘pop art’ style from the late 1960’s. An example of pop art was their ‘Doozie’ machine that sported garish artwork using bright purple and Zipper flippers too. Along with other pop art machines, it looked quite at home with the other late 60’s inventions, like flared trousers and kipper ties & tank -tops!

Gottlieb might have produced some lovely artwork on their machines, Williams perhaps had better, more challenging game play on theirs. At the end of the day though, it is how a machine plays and works for YOU that is key. Some ‘must own’ machines mentioned in various pinball forums, in my opinion anyway, might have looked nice but were plain, indeed boring, to play. But that is what a Pinball machine is all about, versatility and enjoyment to play for YOU.

Multi-player machines were also available in 2 and 4 player guise some had 6 players too! Design limitations made these to be a little bland in comparison to single players so for a more challenging game, a single player machine is probably a better bet! For a family friendly, easy to play machine? Buy a multi- player machine.

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