Pinball exhibit and history

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Jan 23 06:38:37 CST 2005

Off-topic but interesting nevertheless. At least it
has a Who reference in the article title. From the Ann
Arbor News at:

Pinball wizard 
Game collector brings examples of 'American pastime'
to EMU 
Sunday, January 23, 2005
News Staff Reporter

David F. Silverman started playing pinball in the back
rooms of candy stores when he was just a kid. 

Now he's got his own pinball machines. In fact,
Silverman's got 400 of them, so many he's had to build
a separate building to house the majority of them. 

"It just seems it's a truly American pastime," he

Silverman, of Silver Spring, Md., is bringing 29
pieces in his collection to Eastern Michigan
University for an exhibit called, simply, "Pinball."
It opens Feb. 1. 

Although some of the machines will be set up so
exhibit visitors can play, the emphasis is on the art
of the machine: "We're not making this look like an
arcade," says Silverman. "It will look like (an art)
gallery" - with the original design drawings displayed
next to some games. 

The idea of pinball design is to integrate the pinball
machine's theme with everything that goes on during a
game, he says. That includes the lights, bells,
whistles, music, text and features such as extra

In the exhibit, Silverman also wants to show visitors
some of the history of those bump-till-you-tilt games,
including the introduction of the plunger, flippers
and bumpers that define the game today. "Pinball is
not a game of invention, but a game of evolution," he
says. "It took from 1774 to today to create what is
exactly pinball." 

Silverman traces the game's origins to France, when
the upper class brought the game of croquet indoors
with pinball precursors that included using a cue to
shoot a ball past pins into a hole. 

The earliest games came to the United States when the
French aided the colonists in the Revolutionary War,
sending soldiers and sailors who took up the pastime,
says Silverman. 

The oldest machine slated to come to the exhibit is
one manufactured in 1871 with the first spring-backed
plunger. Coin-operated machines appeared before the
beginning of the 20th century. 

In America, pinball soared in popularity in the 1930s,
when anyone with a penny could play seven balls and
forget all about the Great Depression, says Silverman.
That decade saw the pinball machine electrified, which
allowed for things like bells, buzzers, chimes - and
electronic scoring. 

Bumpers, which bounce the ball back with renewed
energy, were introduced in December 1936. Flippers,
which flick the ball back in play, date to October

More recently, pinball machines have taken on popular
themes, some consistent with major events. For
example, Silverman says, there were games about space
and space travel when Americans were first going into
space. After Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953,
there was a game called "Coronation," though the real
coronation never included any royals in bikinis, as
did the pinball design. 

At that time, the machines had "a visual theme, but
the game didn't have a lot to do with the theme," says
Silverman. "As the games developed (electronically),
they could do that." For example, players scoring on a
prototype machine "Kingpin," which will be at the
exhibit, work their way up to "rubbing out" a crime
syndicate boss. 

The gangster theme has seemed to characterize the
pinball industry over the years, possibly because one
of the big companies to manufacture the games in the
'30s and '40s made gambling machines as well, says

But pinball's shady reputation is part of its
attraction, says Richard Rubenfeld, a professor of art
history at EMU and curator of "Pinball." 

"They represent something somewhat taboo," says
Rubenfeld, who played at amusement parks when he was a
kid on Long Island. "It was believed they corrupted
the youth, along with comic books and rock 'n' roll." 

Besides the allure of a prohibited pastime, the games
also take him back to his past. "They give me a chance
to be 8 years old again," says Rubenfeld, who's
previously brought comic book and war poster exhibits
to the EMU campus. "To me, they suggest cotton candy
and peanuts." 

In recent years, pinball machines have lost ground to
video games. Only one company now makes the machines. 

But Silverman maintains that pinball has at least one
characteristic video games don't. "The ball is always
wild, and that has always appealed to pinball
players," says Silverman. "You have skill, but the
ball never does the same thing twice. There's always a
different outcome."

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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