Retro Coin Op Synopsis
By the 1940’s, pinball had become the arcade game of choice. This seemingly obvious fact is actually quite amazing when you consider that the game lacked a key element that all pinball players take for granted today: flippers. Until the late 1940’s, pinball players had to get by on only the careful deployment of the plunger and gentle nudges to the machine as the pinball made its way down the playfield. Despite the later addition of bumpers and electrified holes that would re-launch the ball into play, the player was basically out of luck once the ball headed towards the bottom of the playfield.
This all changed when D. Gottleib and Co. released Humpty Dumpty in 1947. This pinball machine utilized six ‘flipper bumpers,’ an element created by the chief designer Harry Mabs. These ‘flippers’ were baseball-bat-like objects that were two inches long and surrounded by a ring of rubber. They were added to the left and right edges of the playing field, placed three to a side and arranged in rows of two at the top, middle and bottom of the playfield. The player could control the movement of these flippers via two buttons, one on each side of the machine.
Unlike modern pinball machines, the flippers in Humpty Dumpty flipped from side to side instead of up and down. This worked to the player’s benefit, since the scoring holes that offered the biggest point values were lined up down the center of the playfield. Skilled players soon learned to flip the pinball from flipper to flipper to move it up the playfield at will.
The playfield also housed bumpers to keep the pinball bouncing around. This combination of flipper and bumper gave players a brand-new level of control to the ball’s path, thus allowing them to play longer and score more points in a game.
Humpty Dumpty became the new king of pinball games when it was released in October of 1947. By the end of the year, pinball machines without flippers were considered passé. Other manufacturers quickly reconverted their old machines to feature flippers or put out flipper-styled pinball machines of their own.
Since Humpty Dumpty, flippers have become a standard feature of every pinball game. In short, pinball fans everywhere owe this innovative pinball machine a debt of gratitude for helping make the transition from a fun novelty to a true game of skill.