The Evolution of Pinball Machines Contains a Surprising Amount of Sex

By Attila Nagy on at

Game of skills or evil gambling? It is hard to believe that there was a long period in the history of arcade games when pinball machines, these amazing mixtures of art, design, engineering, technology, gaming, sport, culture, were banned. It was illegal to own even just one.

The following images draw the brief gravity-defying evolution of pinball machines, from the very beginning of pins and balls, through the first flippers through to spaceships; from mere luck to mastering the ball; from pure mechanical to analogue and digital; from adult themes to blockbuster movies and popular cartoons and animated sitcoms.

Travel with us now over more than 140 years of pinball history with the help of the incredible collection of PBal Gallery, a temporarily closed pinball museum in Budapest, Hungary.

1871: M. Redgrave’s patented “Parlor Bagatelle Table” (USA). Montague Redgrave’s first production game with a spring-loaded plunger was the first ancestor of all pinball machines.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1932: Ballyhoo, an early pinball machine, the game that started Bally (USA).

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1933: Silver Cup (by Genco, USA), a more complex pinball machine with metal cup castings on playfield and a display for the automatic score totalisers

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1934: World’s Fair Jig-Saw pinball (by Rockola, USA). The player had ten balls to try to complete a jigsaw puzzle picture of the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1939: Airport (by Genco, USA). One of the first electro-mechanical pinball machines, without flippers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1939: Favorit (by Bergmann, Germany). A flipperless electro-mechanical pinball predecessor with passive bumpers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1947: Humpty Dumpty (by Gottlieb, USA). The first pinball machine manufactured with electro-mechanical flippers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1948: Triple Action (by Genco, USA). The first pinball machine with two flippers placed at the bottom of the playfield.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1949: Basketball (by Gottlieb, USA). Light animation in the backbox.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1951: Hayburners (by Williams, USA). With mechanical backbox animation.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1951: Jalopy (by Williams, USA). Basically the same machine as above but with car racing theme. Note that the flippers move inverted compared to later flippers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


C1950: Wild Animals bagatelle game (manufacturer unknown).

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1959: Tic-Tac-Toe [NOUGHTS AND CROSSES) (by Williams, USA). With backglass animation of Tic-tac-toe board.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1960: Roller Derby playfield (by Bally, USA). Electro-mechanical pinball machine, specialty: Bingo Machine.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1962: Target Gallery (by Midway, USA). With one baseball bat instead of flippers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1965: Buckaroo (by Gottlieb, USA). Played by Elton John in the classic rock opera Tommy.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1967: Benelux-tour bagatelle (by Homas Spelen, Netherlands). Contains two spring loaded plungers and a single-row abacus.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1968: Hayburners II (by Williams, USA). The first modern flippers are introduced.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1971: Hi-score Pool (by Chicago Coin, USA). Wide pin with smaller balls and a special turret shooter at the middle bottom.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1972: Winner (by Williams, USA). Animated horse race under the playfield.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1975: Super Flipper (by Chicago Coin, USA). First video game disguised as a pinball machine. CRT TV screen in a pinball cabinet.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1978: Hearts, Spades (by Allied, USA). A cocktail table with pinball inside.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1978: Future World playfield (by Zaccaria, Italy). Outer space themed pinball machine.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1979: Gorgar (by Williams, USA). The first talking pinball machine (vocabulary: 7 words). Gorgar also had a heart beat sound that sped up during the game play.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1979: Xenon (by Bally, USA). Bally’s first talking pinball machine.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1980: Firepower (by Williams, USA). The first solid state electronic pinball machine with multiball mode.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1980: Black Knight (by Williams, USA). This was the first solid state electronic pinball with a multi-level playfield.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1980: Sexy Girl (by Bell Games, Italy). “NSFW“ pinball machine with projector and film cartridge installed under the playfield, showing images intended for adults only.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1981: Hyperball (by Bally, USA). No flippers, but a hypercannon shoots up to 250 small balls per minute at targets.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1982: Orbitor 1 (by Stern, USA). One of the craziest pinball machine ever created: it has a clear curved plastic playfield with a cratered Moon surface, imitating gravitational slingshot movements. Only 889 were built.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1984: Granny and the Gators (by Bally, USA). A combination of a scaled-down pinball machine and a video game.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1985: Pinball Action (by Tehkan, USA). Pinball video game in a pinball machine style cabinet.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1986: Pin*bot (by Williams, USA). With a bagatelle-like mini playfield upper level.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1988: Banzai Run (by Williams, USA). A magnet lifts the ball in play to the vertical playfield in the backbox.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1989: Earthshaker (by Williams, USA). Equipped with a shaker motor for vibrating quake effects.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1990: Diner (by Williams, USA). Mechanical backbox animations are back!

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1997: Cirqus Voltaire (by Williams, USA). The only Williams pinball wtih its digital matrix display (DMD) screen built in the playfield, not in the backbox.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1992: The Addams Family (by Midway, USA). Broke all previous sales records, 20,270 were sold.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1993: Pistol Poker (by Alvin G., USA). One of the rarest pinball machines, only 200 were built. Combining pinball and poker with the backglass light matrix.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1993: Twilight Zone (by Midway, USA). Features a smaller and lighter ceramic ball called the “Powerball”.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


1999: Star Wars Episode I (by Williams, USA). The last pinball machine manufactured by Williams.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


2003: The Simpsons Pinball Party (by Stern, USA). Bumper caps in the shape of cooling towers. Homer’s head moves on playfield, with lamp inside.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


2006: Family Guy (by Stern, USA). It has a mini playfield with tiny balls and flippers.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


2012: Star Trek, Enterprise Limited Edition (by Stern, USA). Features the USS Vengeance starship with rocking and shaking and crash effect.

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines

Not Safe For Play? The Evolution of Pinball Machines


Photos: Attila Nagy/Gizmodo