The Story Of The Silver Ball: Pinball Machines

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From their 1940's ban to the biggest titles that persevere today, discover the wild history of pinball.

Vintage image of rockstar playing pinball game

With the newest member of the Maison Roshi family, The Jiraiya Pinball Machine, currently in development, we’ve come to reflect on the history of this part of the gaming industry. A quick search uncovers that the history of pinball is far from a simple one – from decade long bans to collaborations with pop culture icons, discover the iconic stories behind this crucial foundation of the retro gaming industry. 

Game hall with sailors playing on pinball machines

The first pinball machine post World War II 

The inspiration for the first pinball machines can be drawn back to a game called Bagatelle, invented by the French in the 18th century. However, the very first pinball machine to resemble what we know today was invented back in 1930, by a company called “Automatic Industries”, who called these machines “whiffle boards”. Their very first “whiffle boards” were quickly by various games still known today such as “Bingo” and “Baffle Ball”. These early pinball machines all had wooden legs and tables – a stark contrast to the chrome machines available on the market today. The popularity of pinball machines sky-rocketed after World War II, with the invention of “flippers”, which were introduced on the the “Humpty Dumpty” pinball machine, and soon-after on most pinball games.  

Rockstar playing on pinball machine with 80s style jacket

What caused the ban of pinball machines from 1940 to 1976?

When we think of pinball games today, we think of innocent, fun, retro entertainment machines. It’s difficult to image that these machines were banned in various states in the United States until just over 40 years ago.

There were two main reasons that pinball machines faced a ban in the early 1940´s. The first was introduced by New York Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, who spread the belief that pinball machines were robbing school children of their hard earned nickels. La Guardia’s campaign was received with surprisingly positive sentiment from the public, and for a few years he ordered his officers to raid the city of all pinball machines – of which we found over a thousand (we would’ve hid ours away, as I’m sure many tried to)! The second, slightly more serious reason for the ban was that in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s, the games began to be affiliated with criminal organisations due to increased gambling and betting surrounding them. Most pinball machines of the time were produced in Chicago, and the city, which also happened to be criminal hub of the time, became the hotspot for pinball gambling.  This led to a further seizure of pinball machines across the United States and a public ordinance that coined (see what we did there) the games as “nuisances in public places”. 


Popular pinball titles and the influence of pop culture

Although the pinball industry took a major hit from the ban of these games, once the restrictions were lifted various major titles were developed, that remain iconic to the gaming industry today. 

Perhaps the most relevant of these to pop culture today is the Addams Family pinball machine. This machine sold a whopping 21,270 units in 1992, with 1,000 Gold Editions produced in a second run to celebrate this impressive sales record. The staggering number of sales of this specific game definitely came down to the popularity of the Addams Family, with their magical allure and the non-conforming, lovable characters. 

Other popular titles include Dirty Harry (1995), Black Night 2000 (1989), Xenon (1980), Eight Ball (1977) as well as newer pinball games including Godzilla (2021) and Iron Maiden – Legacy of the Beast (2018). 

Partially due to their controversial history, pinball machines arguably became a social symbol at one stage of their history, which is discernible in the various images of rockstars and creative directors and other artists playing pinball taken throughout the ages.   

Close Up of pinball game with woman jumping into ocean

Pinball today and Maison Roshi’s “Jiraiya” 

The influence of pinball games on the retro gaming and arcade industry, as well as popular culture as whole, should not be undermined. many of these games remain in high demand today, and with the development of new games and pinball gaming systems, their presence is unlikely to waver anytime soon. That’s why, we are beyond excited to announce our newest collection of entertainment units; the “Jiraiya” pinball machines. With prototype production well underway and first pre-orders processed, we will be sharing more information on the collection soon. Keep an eye on our website and our social media linked here, for more updates! 

Old school gaming hall with pinball machines

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