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Pinball has its origins in the French game of Bagatelle. Played on a narrow table with an incline, a player used a miniature pool stick to shoot a ball up a channel set on the side of the board. The ball would then drop through a series of pins until it landed in a scoring pocket at the bottom of the board. The game of Bagatelle underwent a few revisions in the 1800s that made it look more like pinball, including a spring operated ball shooter and a coin operated version.
In 1931, the first coin operated pinball machine was produced by Automatic Industries. This was a game called "Whiffle Board." A few years later, Raymond Maloney, founder of the Bally Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois, invented a game called "Ballyhoo." It was about this time that the term "pinball" began to be used for these games.
Pinball grew in popularity after World War II, especially after flippers were added to the Humpty Dumpty pinball game in 1947 by the D. Gottlieb Company. Pinball was at the height of its popularity during the late 1940s and 1950s. Interest peaked again in the 1970s when solid state pinball machines were introduced. Pinball remained popular until the mid 1990s, when video games eclipsed pinball as the major arcade attraction.
Harry Williams, founder of the Williams Manufacturing Company, responded to players' attempts to cheat at pinball by lifting the machines. In 1935, he invented the "tilt" mechanism to prevent cheating
Pinball was outlawed in many areas of the United States in the mid 1940s. People perceived pinball to be a game of chance, and therefore a form of gambling, which was illegal at the time
The rarest pinball machine is Bally's "Pinball Circus" from 1994. Only two of these machines exist – one in a private collection and the other at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada