Pinball as we know it was invented in Chicago, but its predecessor salon game ‘bagatelle’ was already played in the 18th century. French aristocrats tried passing a ball into a hole on a board with a small cue in this game. The Hungarian name ‘flipper’ refers to the English word: an arm with a fin; the foregoers of pinball had the same name ‘pinball’ in English language areas, but in Hungary, those machines were rather called ‘bagatelle’ or ‘tivoli’. It became a separate game when a game maker from Cincinnati Montague Redgrave exchanged cues to spring launchers in 1870. During the Great Depression-era, people in the USA longed for something that meant an escape from troubles, and pinball gave them this feeling. Like all skill games, pinball tried to address as broad public as possible with continuous innovations and changes. During the thirties, some people invented versions that even paid money off, but that would have been considered gambling, thus this type did not spread. The first pinball machine with moveable flippers was born in 1947; it was the machine of the company Gottlieb, called Humpty Dumpty and can be found in the collection of the Flippermúzeum (Pinball Museum) as well.
Besides the story of the game, its reception in Hungary is even more interesting. Slot machines were maintained by the Iparcikk Kölcsönző és Szolgáltató Vállalat (manufactures lending and service providing company) as of 1961. According to a period news article, more than 2000 machines were operated in Hungary. The first pinball room was opened in 1965. The oldest room was operated in the Kissalétrom Street Parlour of Pannonia Restaurant, but most of the machines stood in smoky taverns that were often remonstrated against. Regarding prices: the pool cost HUF 6 per hour and the pinball was HUF 2, but skilful persons could play with it for a long time. They were typically maintained on places that were important for tourism, as you can see it in our selection. The photos were taken in the Annabella Hotel of Balatonfüred. Certainly, games were not only big fun but big business too.
The origin of its name is not cleared. According to an explanation, ‘billard’ is a French word that comes from ‘bille’ that means ball. Another explanation says that it was named after an English pawnshop owner Bill Kew, who liked hitting balls with a wooden yard in his spare time. Therefore, the English compound word comes from ‘Bill’s Yard’. As of the 13th century, you can find references to ball games played outdoors by hitting a ball with a racket or a stick. In order to be able to play it where the weather is bad, they kept the game indoors increasingly, and finally they put it on a table.
In Hungary, billiards spread in the 1770s, and became an important element of coffeehouse life. The game was always considered as gentlemen’s amusement, although the traces of that can be found mostly in its competitive sport version. Appearance was very important as well, the rules regulated that a competitor had to wear dark trousers, a shirt, a waistcoat and a bow tie. Several Hungarian celebrities loved playing the game, for example Széchenyi. The billiards is a necessary fixture of Hungarian catering industrial units; later only table football could become its rival.
Table football, as a ball game played on a table, has German and French origins. The presently known version was formed in 1922. It broke out of the pub game role during the years and developed into a sport. Competitions started in the 1990s, when certain players became regular visitors at foreign competitions. They began to develop relationships and existing alliances ensured one another about their cooperation. As a result, the International Table Soccer Federation was established officially in 2002, and Hungary joined it in 2004.
Skill game lovers still have a lot of opportunities to play. In Balázs Pálfi’s Flippermúzeum (Pinball Museum) they can play free of charge on hundreds of machines after paying the entry fee. Among the machines, there were some that operated with French francs, or German marks or Dutch guilders as well.
We would like to thank Balázs Pálfi, founder of the Flippermúzeum, for his ideas and the review of the text.
Translated by Zita Aknai