The Necessity of Invention: How pinball was created, and why

Pinball Playfield Trajectory
Melissa Harmon
Class Size: 

The Necessity of Invention: How pinball was created, and why.

Instructor, Melissa Harmon, Curator at Pacific Pinball Museum

Price includes all day museum pass.

Non Members: $25 for Adults, $15.00 for kids. Members with admissions are free.

First Class, Sunday July 26th at 11am

August 2         11am

August 9         11am

August 16       11am

August 23       11am

August 30       11am


Class starts at 11am til Noon, take the 1 hour class, then go play in the Pacific Pinball Museum as long as you like. All day in and out privileges, so you can go out for lunch and come back for more. This class may be attended by both adults and children.  Children 6 years old and older should be able to understand the basic concepts.  Parents must accompany children into the museum, and remain in the museum during the class.



    Learn about the evolution of gaming from it's beginnings as pinball in the 1930's to some of the high tech wonders of today. Pinball is one of the few games that has lasted for over a century. It has changed from a game played with a cue stick, to spring loaded plunger, always keeping up with advancing technology. Discover how the slanted playfield itself can form a probability field that can be used to affect scoring and game play. Students will be able to use a real pinball table to design their own scoring holes and areas, and to experiment with probability, changing the design to improve their game.   


Early Pinball Tech History:


Pinball began very simply, in France in the 1700’s.  What made it necessary was that croquet, a favorite game of the French, was played outdoors, but when it rained, no more croquet!


 The French decided to make a board with scoring holes to be used inside their homes so that they could continue to play in bad weather.  The French called them bagatelles, which is an Italian word for a “fun thing”.


During the American Revolution, French soldiers (who were on our side against the English) brought bagatelles to America.   Americans began to call them pingames because of the pins or small nails used to guide the balls, and eventually the name became pinball.   The early games used a cue stick to push the ball to the top of the playfield.


Necessities of game design: sample questions


What happens when the angle of the playfield changes?


The high scoring holes are the hardest to reach with the ball.   Why?


Early game designers used trial and error to plan shot paths in the game… and you can too!


The spring loaded plunger was patented in 1872 by Montague Redgrave for a game called Parlor Bagatelle, actually a toy, which became very popular in the US.    Why is the plunger better than a cue stick for loading the ball?     


The mass production of steel made strong springs and steel pinballs widely available in the 1930's. The spring is a very good example of Newton's Law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The spring stores the energy of the player's pull; when it's released, the stored energy is transferred to the ball.  Try it and see!


As the pingame got more complex, so did the trajectories and possible patterns of the ball. 

The pin pattern determined where the ball was likely to go on the playing surface.  How do you plot a trajectory?



Exhibit(s) included in this class: