Baseball-themed machines became popular in the mid 1930s. Penny Arcade games used a bat to launch balls into a scoring mechanism. Pinball followed with a bat used to hit a pitched ball across the playfield to score runs. These batting mechanisms were the forerunner of the pinball flipper.

D. Gottlieb & Co.'s 1947 Humpty Dumpty was the first pinball machine to use flippers.

Invented by Harry Mabs, the machine had six flippers - three to a side. This innovation gave players the ability for the first time to keep the ball in play and added a considerable measure of skill to playing pinball.

The marketing slogan for Humpty Dumpty immodestly announced that its "Sensationally New Player Flipper Bumpers" were the "Greatest Triumph in Pin Game History" and history has proved the slogan right.

The repositioning of the flippers at the bottom of the pinball playing field is credited to that legend of pinball game design, Steve Kordek. As the story is told, Kordek was assigned the responsibility for designing the playfield for the 1948 Genco game "Triple Action." However, his budget only allowed him to use two electrically powered flippers and he ended up placing them in their now classic position at the bottom of the machine.