Traveling Abroad and the Birth of the Pinball Machine

If you are planning travels abroad, particularly to Europe, taking in historical sites and events is likely to be part of your touring agenda. This will most likely include many of the major attractions favored by people on holiday. However, if you are like many individuals, you may also have an interest in taking in some more unique sites, sounds, and events in your international travels.

For example, you may be like a considerable number of individuals who have at least some interest in pinball, and may be curious about its history. The reality is that your European travels may bring you into contact with some of the prime locations in which this highly popular game developed throughout the years.

France, Louis XIV, and Versailles

If your travels will take you to Europe, including France, you will be able to experience one of the important historical sites in which what would become modern day pinball developed. The reality is that no trip to France is complete without a visit to Versailles.

Versailles is the amazing palace primarily constructed under the watchful eye of King Louis XIV. With a reign that lasted over 72 years, Louis XIV remains the longest reigning monarch on European history. In the end, Versailles would contribute to the fall of his dynasty, and to the death of his great-great-great grandson, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.

If you keep your eyes and ears open when touring Versailles, you will learn that a couple of things happened during the reign of Louis XIV that contributed to the advent of modern day pinball. At the beginning of the King’s long reign, garden games were popular in his kingdom. Indeed, they remained so throughout the King’s time on the throne.

At Versailles, some of the garden games, including lawn bowling and bocce, migrated into the mammoth palace as well. Ultimately, these games were modified somewhat and ended up being played on tables. Billiards was an outgrowth of this process, but so was the creation and development of what would be come the modern day pinball machine.

After moving certain garden games inside, and placing them on tabletops, billiard tables narrowed somewhat. In addition, wooden pins or skittles were placed at the end of the table opposite the player. Ultimately, these pins were affixed to the tables, next to holes. The objective was to hit a ball from the player’s end of the table, hit a pin, and pocket the ball into a hold.


Western Europe and the Years Immediately Before the Rebellion of the American Colonies


While the American Colonies moved closer to rebellion, much of Western Europe carried on with business and leisure as normal. During the time period leading up to the rebellion of the American Colonies, what would develop into contemporary derivations of pinball continued apace in Western Europe.

During this time period, the game developed primarily at Versailles underwent further refining and became something commonly called Billard Japonais, or Japanese Billiards. This moniker was applied to the game despite the fact that the derivation of the game was developed in Western Europe and not in Japan.

This incarnation of a pinball machine permanently replaced the use of a cue. Rather, a coiled spring and a plunger was utilized, to pitch the ball across the table, towards the pins and holes. This development is highly familiar to anyone who has played contemporary pinball in the 20th and 21st centuries.


Crossing the Pond in the Late 19th Century


Credit goes to Englishman Montague Redgrave for making the final major changes in the development of what has become the standard configuration for pinball from the 20th century onward. He left the British Isles and settled in Ohio in the United States in 1869.

Montague is credited with improving the functionality of the spring coil. Indeed, he obtained a patent for his efforts. In addition, during this time period, the size of the game shrunk further. This permitted the placement of the game on tavern bars or countertops. This enhanced the popularity of the game by making it more prevalent in public houses of various types.

Pinball machines reached the zenith of their popularity during the 20th century. With that said, they remain widely enjoyed by people around the world even today. In addition to learning more about the history of pinball machines during your travels, you are also likely to be able to see prime examples of the predecessors to the modern day game and various destinations in Europe.



Jessica Kane is a writer for The Pinball Company, the best online source for new, used, and refurbished pinball machines, arcade cabinets, and more!


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