While many people might see a pinball machine and think of an antiquated game, the popularity of this unique and fascinating game is on the rise again. In fact, in 2006 there were only 50 competitions with around 500 players but by 2021 those numbers had grown to 37,000 competitions and more than 84,000 players!
This ageless, timeless, genderless game that is basically void of nationality offers a myriad of opportunities for pretty much anyone of any skill level to play and enjoy pinball, whether in arcades, restaurants or bars. National Pinball Day has arrived to show some love and appreciation to this game and those who play it.
History of National Pinball Day
When folks during the Great Depression were looking for a cheap form of entertainment, the game pinball was born. With roots that can be traced back to 18th century Europe, or perhaps even further, the concept of the game wasn’t necessarily new, but the execution came about in the early 1930s. By the late 1940s, flippers were introduced and the essence of the game of pinball hasn’t changed a whole lot since that time.
Although the mechanics of the game are not so different, pinball’s popularity has ebbed and flowed at different times. For instance, in a somewhat misguided effort to reduce crime and gambling, New York City outlawed pinball from 1947-1976. Other cities followed suit and, especially in Chicago, pinball even became associated with organized crime for a little while.
Pinball gained a bit of their reputation back in 1976 when Roger Sharpe, a representative from the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA), testified in court that pinball should be recognized as a game of skill and not of chance. But even with that official testimony, pinball still didn’t recover quickly.
Sadly, with the advent of video games in the 1980s, the game of pinball machines were set aside to make way for newfangled games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders. Pinball took a nosedive in popularity, with many of the major manufacturers of pinball machines getting out of the game entirely.
But the story isn’t over yet! Starting in the late 2010s, this game that seemed almost dead was revived once again, bringing a new amount of energy and popularity to the game. New manufacturers began popping up, pinball competitions and championships were restored, and the game of pinball made an official comeback over the next several years.
2018 brought the induction of the game of pinball into the Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York. And a petition for the US Senate to recognize National Pinball Day took place the following year. Although this official recognition didn’t come to fruition, the celebration is still legitimate in the eyes of pinball lovers worldwide!
The inaugural celebration of National Pinball Day took place in 2019 and has been enjoyed annually ever since. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Mr. Roger Sharpe and was also coordinated as the start of that year’s Pinburgh, one of the largest ever pinball conventions, which includes the annual World Pinball Championships.
National Pinball Day Timeline
Late 18th Century
French invent Bagatelle
This indoor game includes balls that are hit around in a wooden box, like a mini pool table.
First electric pinball machines appear
A battery was fitted into a manual machine to create sounds and keep score with a clock counter.
New York City bans pinball
In an effort to reduce the gambling associated with pinball, New York and other major cities ban the game – lasting until the mid-1970s.
Flippers are added to pinball machines
The Humpty Dumpty by D. Gottlieb & Co. is the first pinball machine game with flippers.
Pinball makes a comeback
After video games seemed to take pinball down, the game makes a comeback with newly released games and growing interest.
How to Celebrate National Pinball Day
Get on board and show some love for preserving this iconic game that has become fresh again! It’s time to celebrate National Pinball Day and here are some ideas and activities to get started with:
Play Some Pinball
Obviously, the most important task of this illustrious day is to head on over to an arcade, bar or pub that houses a pinball machine and get ready to play. Grab a friend, load up on quarters or tokens, and have a ton of retro fun! Those who are exceptionally good, or at least very confident, can sign up to participate in matches, competitions and tournaments where pinball players are pitted against each other in elimination rounds.
Those who don’t have access to a true pinball machine might be interested in downloading a number of different pinball game apps that can be played on their smartphones in honor of National Pinball Day. However it is played, be sure to share photos on social media to raise hype for playing pinball and get others interested.
Attend the World Pinball Championship
With dozens of the best players representing more than twenty countries from around the globe, the World Pinball Championship is like the World Series of arcade games. And a great way to celebrate National Pinball Day would be to make plans to attend the next event. Plan to attend as a player, a fan, or check to see what types of volunteer opportunities are available for this pinball event.
Put on by the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), this world class event typically takes place in early June and the location moves around to different countries. Past events have taken place in cool cities like Ft. Myers, Florida, USA; Echzell, Germany; Milan, Italy; and Ontario, Canada.
Watch Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game
Want to get more educated about the history and intrigue that lies behind the game of pinball? Well, National Pinball Day is the perfect time to do it! Fans of the game can celebrate by learning a bit more on film. This 2022 comedy documentary, Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game tells the story of Roger Sharpe, who testified on behalf of the game in a Manhattan court in 1976. The cast of the film includes names like Dennis Boutsikaris, Crystal Reed and Mike Faist.
Make a National Pinball Day Playlist
A great day can be made even better with the right soundtrack to go along with it! Enjoy the fun of National Pinball Day and show support by making, listening to and sharing a playlist centered around the theme of pinball. Check out a few of these songs to get started with:
- Pinball Wizard by The Who (1969)
- Pinball by Protheroe (1974)
- Pinball Machine by Lonnie Irving (1960)
- Pinball Blues by Moore & Napier (1966)
National Pinball Day FAQs
Who is the “pinball wizard”?
Written by Pete Townsend, Pinball Wizard is a song from The Who’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy, based on teachings of Indian spiritualism.
Why was pinball illegal?
In the 1940s, American people believed outlawing pinball might improve morality while reducing juvenile delinquency and crime.
How much is a pinball machine?
The cost of a pinball machine can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on whether they are new or used and what condition the game is in.
Are pinball machines still made?
Yes! Though they had a downturn in the ‘80s and ‘90s, pinball machines are now manufactured by a number of different companies.
Does pinball take skill?
Yes! Some people estimate that pinball is 70% skill and 30% luck.
For other events that offer a similar opportunity to celebrate, consider joining in with National Video Game Day in July, National Game and Puzzle Week in November or National Video Games Day in September.