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A Visit With Harry Williams

While going through my files I came across a series of "notes" I had made after my visit to pinball pioneer Harry Williams in early 1978, and subsequent phone conversations with him in the years to follow. The article to follow was written to pass on the information I gained from those conversations.

First, let me briefly relate the story of how I came to visit

Harry in the first place. One day while talking to pinball

author/historian Roger Sharpe on the phone, he suggested to me

that I call or visit Mr. Williams sometime, who he described as a

very friendly individual. I didn't really think at that time I

would have the "nerve" to call this great man, but I took his

address and phone number anyway.



Well, several months later my wife and I were visiting

friends who lived about 50 miles from Palm Springs where Harry

lived. I decided that I would try calling him to see if there

was any chance I might visit him sometime. I called him, told

him of my interest in pinball, and that Roger Sharpe had

suggested I get in touch with him, and said that I would sure

like to come see him sometime if it would be no bother. Much to

my delight he responded by asking when I would like to come, and

when I asked "how about today", he again surprised me by saying

"alright, come on over".



I talked to my wife and our friend and they agreed to go to

Palm Springs and look around while I visited Mr. Williams. We

then drove to Palm Springs and they let me off at Harry's house

agreeing to return in an hour or two. Well, I'll tell you, those

were two of the most enjoyable hours of my life!

That memorable visit occurred on March 18, 1978.



I had decided not to take many notes during my visit because

I felt it would be more casual and relaxed if I didn't. So we

just had a friendly visit and afterwards I made additional notes

concerning the "highlights" of our talk. For this reason, the

information in these articles may not be in a real logical order,

but it does cover what I later considered to be the most

interesting information gathered from this "pinball great" during

that visit and the phone conversations that followed later.



I rang the bell and was cordially greeted by Mr. Williams who

invited me in and we sat in the living room. Shortly, his

charming wife served us coffee and we began discussing both of

our favorite subject, pinball. I started by telling him about my

pinball collection (about 10 or 12 games at that time, I believe)

and showing him pictures of them. I remember him asking me why I

had so many Bally games and my saying that it was because they

seemed to be easier to find in our area. When we got to the

picture of the one Williams game I owned at that time (and still

do), SHOO SHOO from 1951, Harry said, "oh yes, that was one of my

dogs". Ever since then I have thought that that was a very

interesting piece of "pinball trivia".



We then began discussing his early game designs and the

company he founded, called Automatic Amusements, in Los Angeles

in the early 1930's. He said his shop was located in the 2500

block of Pico Blvd., an area I walked through many times as a

teenager in the early 1950's. That area of Los Angeles is still

"coin machine row", even today.



Harry brought out his scrapbook and started telling me about

his early designs and showing me ads for them. Three of the

games he talked about were ADVANCE, SIGNAL, and DEALER. Harry

described features of these games in some detail and I could

clearly see that he was justifiably proud of his early handiwork.

I also remember being impressed by how clearly he remembered

details of games he had designed over 40 years earlier!



Harry told me that Bally and Exhibit in a few cases bought

the rights from him to manufacture and distribute some of his

designs in the Mid-West and East, letting Automatic Amusements

take care of the West. He said, however, that part of the "deal"

was that Bally had to credit him as the designer in their

advertisement for the games. Harry also told me about the first

game he designed with a "light-up" backboard. He said the game

was called TRIANGLE, but so far I have never found any

information on a game by that name. Harry told me it was one of

the first games to have such a backboard, but that Genco's KINGS

(April 1935) may have been out first.



He also told me that even though "one-ball payout" games were

quite popular in the mid-thirties he only designed one such game.

This, he said, was called TURRET and the top arch had 3 "slots"

for the ball to enter which paid 10, 20, and 30 cents,

respectively. The holes on the playfield, he remarked, paid

varying amounts, up to 3 dollars. Also during our discussion of

Automatic Amusements Harry told me that when he went to work in

Chicago in 1935 he left his father in charge of the Los Angeles

business.



A major part of our discussions that day centered around the

period of World War II. Harry said that when the war broke out

he, and his game designing partner Lyn Durant, were working for

Exhibit Supply, the company he said "that made the best games in

1941". He went on to say that Exhibit didn't seem to be too

interested in obtaining "war contracts". They let Harry and Lyn

out of their contracts and they decided to form a new company,

which they called United Manufacturing, to rebuild games and get

into war work, where the money was in those days.



Harry told of he and Lyn going to Washington DC trying to get

"war contracts" and of Dave Gottlieb being there at the same

time. He remembered Dave as saying, after they had been there

for awhile, "let's go back home and make games". At that point I

mentioned a Gottlieb "war theme" game I had recently seen called

HIT THE JAPS and asked Harry if he remembered that as being a

"conversion" by Gottlieb. He replied that he did not believe

that Dave Gottlieb had ever made any "conversions", saying that

it was probably a production game made after the war started.



We then discussed the "conversions" made by United, and later

Harry's Williams Manufacturing. Harry said their conversions had

entirely new playfields. The original cabinets, he remarked,

were re-used, but new designs were applied using decals made by

Advertising Posters which he said were hard to tell from a new

paint job. He emphasized that only the electrical and mechanical

parts and the cabinets were re-used in their conversions.



Harry said he left Lyn Durant and United in 1942, and

started his own Williams Manufacturing Co. in 1944. He said

Williams' first machine was a "fortune telling" arcade machine

called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He also mentioned another early machine

he made being an arcade shooting game called PERISCOPE. These

games were also "conversions" in that they were built with parts

taken from "pre-war" games, since new parts could not be obtained

during the war for "non-essential" Items such as amusement

machines.



I then mentioned an old Williams game a friend of mine owned

called ZINGO which had a vertical playfield. Harry said he

remembered it also as being another early Williams game.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Williams Manufacturing made two pingame

conversion games in 1945. The first was FLAT TOP, an example of

which now resides in the beautiful Stan Muraski collection in

Rockford Illinois. An example of the last Williams conversion,

LAURA, is owned by Richard Conger of Sebastopol, California,

included in his extensive pin collection.)



After the war was over, Harry said, his first all new game

was SUSPENSE which was the first such game to be produced. He

said this was followed by Gottlieb's STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, and then

Bally's VICTORY SPECIAL.



Harry then told me that at the time when Harry Mabs at

Gottlieb came out with the first flipper, Williams had also been

working on a similar device. Their's, he said, used a shallow

hole into which a ball would drop, which would then be kicked out

by a "bat" behind the hole. This was an "automatic" action,

however, and not controlled by buttons on the cabinet. When I

asked him if he remembered SUNNY as being Williams' first flipper

game he said he could not remember.



I also asked Harry why Williams made a few games in 1953

employing "score reels" and then went back to "light bulb

scoring". He replied that it was because the paper they used for

the reels had problems with "burning". I guess due to heat

generated in the backbox, although thinking about it now I am

confused about how that could happen, unless they used light

bulbs to illuminate the reels.



Regarding United in the later years, Harry said they had

"trouble" in the Fifties because they were producing the

controversial "bingo games". I then asked him if the reason

United's bingo circuitry was different from Bally's was because

Bally had some sort of patent on it? Harry replied that he did

not think so and that the reason was probably that since Lyn

Durant was a good circuit designer he probably thought his

method was better than Bally's.



At one point during our visit our conversation was

temporarily interrupted by a phone call. It was someone from New

York City (I believe either a newspaper reporter or writer)

asking Harry some questions about his career. Also during our

conversation, Harry told me that he had recently been contacted

by a couple from the San Francisco area, Jim and Candace Tolbert,

who were writing a book on pinball. He then gave me their

address and phone number in case I wanted to get in touch with

them.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: A short time later I called them and talked to

Candace. She told me about their forthcoming book, TILT, and

said they were also going to begin publishing a coin-op magazine

called "Amusement Review" which, she said, was to cover both

older games and the "current scene" as well. She then asked if I

would like to write a column for them on old pingames. I told

her I had never written before, but she convinced me to try it.

I finally agreed, and so began my "pinball writing career".

Incidentally, my column for Amusement Review was called "Five

Balls, Five Cents", a title I decided to retain when I started

writing for COIN SLOT in 1981, and still use today.)



Well, there you have it, a brief account of my memorable

visit with the late coin machine pioneer, Mr. Harry E. Williams.



But my association with Mr. Williams did not end there! In

the years to follow (up until his untimely death in September,

1983) I called him on the phone on several occasions, asking

questions about his career and remembrances of events in pinball

history. In future articles I will relate information obtained

during these conversions in much the same way as I have just

described my original visit to Harry. So stay tuned!





THE HARRY WILLIAMS "PHONECONS" PART 1



ILLUSTRATION: ZINGO PHOTO



Last time I told about my memorable visit with pinball

pioneer Harry Williams at his home in Palm Springs, California in

March 1978. After that visit I had the occasion to talk on the

telephone with Mr. Williams several times between that time and

his untimely death in September 1983.



During these conversations I asked various questions of him

and made notes of his answers and comments. Many different

subjects were discussed during these calls and not necessarily in

any particular sequence; just as the questions came to mind

during the call. In this, and succeeding articles, I will

describe the information I gained from this great man during

these telephone conversations.



Before I start presenting the content of these phone

conversations with Harry, a word about the accuracy of this

information. You must keep in mind that most everything Mr.

Williams told me was from his memory of games and events which,

in general, took place between 30 and 50 years earlier! For this

reason everything he said may not have been entirely accurate.

Names of games may have been confused, etc. However, I have made

little attempt to try and correct this information, even though I

may have reason to believe that some of it was in error. I will

report what Harry told me and it is up to the reader to assign

whatever amount of credence he wishes to this information. As a

final note on this subject, let me say that during these

conversations there were many times when I felt that he sounded

unclear on some points, but with others his memory appeared to me

to be "crystal clear",



My first phone conversation with Mr. Williams occurred on May

1, 1978. I first asked Harry if he had heard of Universal

Industries, a company in existence in the late 1940's, one of

who's games, a 1-ball horserace game called WINNER, I had just

acquired. He told me that the company had been founded by Mel

Binks (a designer for J. H. Keeney Co.) and Lyn Durant, Harry's

friend and ex-partner in United Manufacturing and owner of that

outfit at the time. Harry went on to say that United was

eventually taken over by Seeburg in the late 1960's, just as

Williams was taken over by the same company in the early Sixties.



I next asked Mr. Williams about two old games owned by a

friend of mine, Fred Roth of Thousand Oaks California, on neither

of which we could find any manufacturer's name. One of these

games, TORPEDO, he said he did not exactly remember, but from my

description of its features said it sounded very similar to

Bally's FLEET of 1934. The other game I mentioned, STAR-LITE,

(also from the mid-Thirties) he said he thought may have been

made by Chicago Coin.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Upon looking up TORPEDO in "Pinball Collector's

Resource" (by my friends Rob Hawkins and Don Mueting) I found

three games by that name made in the 1930's: one by Dudley Clark

Co. in 1934, and one by Jennings and another by Exhibit Supply,

both from 1936. There was only one STAR LITE listed made by

Exhibit in 1935.)



When I finally asked him about another of Fred's games, an

early game by his Williams Manufacturing Company called ZINGO, he

had a better recollection. He said he remembered making that

upright game during World War II using parts from pre-war games

(since during the war game manufacturers could not get any new

parts or war essential materials). When I told him that Fred's

machine had large colored light bulbs mounted on each side, Harry

said he did not remember building it that way, the lights

probably being added by an operator.



Finally, Harry told me of the very first machine made by his

Williams Manufacturing. He said it was a fortune telling arcade

machine called SELECT-A-SCOPE. He then told me that one of these

machines was still in operation in an arcade on the pier in Santa

Monica, California. That ended our first telephone conversation.



My next phone call to Mr. Williams occurred a little over a

year later, on April 2, 1979. I first asked Harry if he knew

which company first originated the "match feature"? He replied

he thought it might have been United, or possibly Keeney,

remarking that Keeney designer Mel Binks was a good designer. He

then said that his ex-partner Sam Stern might remember, but that

he himself was not sure.



I then asked Harry if he remembered the pingames made by

Williams in the early 1950's, which had a "bingo format". He

replied he remembered them producing LONG BEACH (the only true

"bingo pinball" made by Williams). When I asked him about a

flipper game with a bingo format and a "circus motif", the

playfield for which my friend Rob Hawkins had found, he said he

did not remember it, again saying that Sam Stern might recall it.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: I finally found out, by looking at Mike Pacak's

old pinball brochures at Pinball Expo '87, that that game was

called STARLITE and was made in 1953. Other Williams

"flipper/bingo" games were: DISK JOCKEY, FOUR CORNERS, and HONG

KONG, all made around that same time.)



Harry next related to me the story of him leaving his

Williams Manufacturing Company in 1959. He said the company was

bought in that year by the Consolidated Drug Company. He went on

to say that he and Sam Stern had been partners in Williams since

1947. He told me that Consolidated let the partners opt for

either cash or stock in the company. Harry said he took the

cash, but Sam decided to take stock instead. He went on to say

that Sam later regained control of Williams for a short time, but

finally sold the company to Seeburg in 1963.



I next asked Mr. Williams if he remembered who originated the

"pop bumper"? He replied he thought it was Exhibit Supply. When

I told him about the 1938 Stoner game, ZETA, I had when I was a

kid, and that it had a "spring type" pop bumper in the center of

its circular playfield, he said he remembered that game and that

it could have been the first use of such a device.



I then asked him if the Exhibit games made just prior to the

war were the first games to use "eject holes"? Harry quickly

reminded me that his 1934 pioneer electric action game, CONTACT,

was the first to use such a device. He also said that CONTACT

was an early game having a "ball return", referring to its

"Contact Hole", I suppose. Harry then went on to say that some

other games in the mid Thirties had various forms of "kickout

holes", but that the invention of the "bumper" by Bally in late

1936 caused this type of feature to virtually drop out of sight

(bumpers becoming the rage) until the Exhibit games that I had

mentioned.



The last thing that Harry mentioned during this conversation

was that he had recently attended a special showing of the new

Brooke Shields movie, "Tilt", the idea being that the producers

wanted him, the inventor of the "tilt", to endorse the film. He

said that the film wasn't too bad but that its portrayal of

'pinball hustling' "certainly could not help the image of the

industry". Harry ended by saying that the movie was somewhat

boring to him and that he hoped it would not be very popular and

didn't think it would be. Well, we never really had a chance to

find out since the film was never really released to theaters,

but several years later made limited appearances on cable and

regular television.



The next telephone call to Mr. Williams took place on July 2,

1979. I first asked him which games produced by his Automatic

Amusements Co. in the 1930's were also produced by Bally (he had

told me during my original visit with him that he let Bally

produce some of his designs for Eastern and Mid-Western markets,

while retaining the West Coast for Automatic Amusements). He

replied that ACTION and SIGNAL in 1934 were the only ones.



I next read to him a list of Automatic Amusement games I had

and asked him if it sounded complete? He replied that he also

designed two games which were not on that list, namely CHEVRON

and KNOCKOUT, both from 1935. He then told me about a game

called MULTIPLE which he said he designed for Bally, in which a

ball landing in a hole at the top of the playfield caused the

values of other scoring holes to increase, as indicated in small

"windows" located above those holes.



Harry next told me about his career after leaving California

to go to Chicago in the mid Thirties. He said he went to work

for Dave Rockola in 1935 and stayed there until sometime in 1937.

He said while working there he met young designer Lyndon (Lyn)

Durant and that they became good friends. Harry then told me

that they both left Rockola in 1937 and went to Bally where they

worked for a short time because, he said, they "did not like the

conditions there". Harry then said that he and Lyn went over to

Exhibit Supply in 1938, and that that company was nearly bankrupt

at the time. He went on to say, however, that Exhibit became one

of the leaders of the industry by the early 1940's. He then

remarked that at that time even Gottlieb copied some of Exhibit's

games.



The last part of our conversation dealt with the beginnings

of United Manufacturing during the war years. Harry said that he

and Lyn left Exhibit and formed United just before we got into

the war. He said he left United probably in late 1942 after they

had produced 5 or 6 "conversion" games, starting his Williams

Manufacturing (the forerunner of the current Williams

Electronics) sometime in 1943.



Harry then told me that United's "conversions", unlike those

from most of the other outfits producing such games during the

war, had entirely new playfields. He went on to say that all the

parts from the old games, from which these "conversions" were

made, were disassembled, cleaned, and sometimes replated. He

then said that the only wood used from the old games was the

cabinets themselves.



Finally, I again mentioned that upright style Williams

conversion game, ZINGO, owned by a friend of mine. Harry said he

remembered that he made one mistake in the design of that game,

that of putting a "slope" to its playfield (instead of being

perfectly vertical) because, he said, it made it more difficult

for the player to shoot the ball with any velocity.



This concludes my discussion of our first three phone

conversations. Next time I will continue to describe later

similar calls.





THE HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS (PART 2)



ILLUSTRATIONS: 1938 LIGHTNING photo, 1934 LIGHTNING ad, and 1938

LIGHTNING ad



Last time I described the first three telephone conversations

I had with late pinball pioneer Harry Williams. This time I will

relate information he passed on to me during two additional phone

calls.

The next time I talked to Harry was April 29, 1980. We first

talked about two games produced by Exhibit Supply in the 1930's,

both of which were named LIGHTNING. Harry told me that the first

LIGHTNING, which came out in 1934, was patterned after his

pioneer "electric action" pingame CONTACT. Harry said he

sketched out the design of this game and made it such that it was

not an exact copy of CONTACT. He then told me that Exhibit

produced the game under a license agreement with Fred McClellen

who's Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. was producing CONTACT.



I then asked Harry if he remembered a later Exhibit game with

the same name which I had recently purchased? He said he

remembered he and Lyn Durant designing a game by that name when

they worked for Exhibit, but did not remember much about it.

When I told him that the game had "electro-magnets" under the

playfield which caused the ball to move in unusual ways, Harry

said he remembered a game he designed called BUTTONS which used

that idea, and thought that LIGHTNING may have come after that.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: According to the information I currently have,

LIGHTNING was first advertised in Billboard magazine in August of

1938, with BUTTONS being advertised several months later in

October.)



Harry then said he remembered that principle being used in

conjunction with rubber rebounds such that the ball would "bounce

back and forth over a scoring button to add up score". He called

that idea an "adder-upper", and said he thought it was

automatically disabled when the "1000 scoring unit" was advanced.

Harry did not, however, say on what game that idea was used. In

a final remark regarding LIGHTNING he said he remembered it

having a short scoreboard attached to the playfield and said that

Stoner had originated that cabinet style with their 1937 game

RICOCHET.



I next asked Harry about the "free play" idea which had been

originated by his young shop assistant in the early 1930's, Bill

Bellah. He said Bellah's device was mostly mechanical, and not

the electrical device used for years utilizing a solenoid mounted

beneath the coin chute (Harry remarking that he himself came up

with that idea later on). Harry then said Bellah's invention

used a metal drum, mounted near the front of the playfield, which

had numbers on it (showing through a small window) indicating the

number of "free play credits". He went on to say that this unit

was mechanically linked to the coin chute to allow it to be

pushed in without using a coin as long as credits were indicated.

He said, however, that the drum was advanced, when replays were

earned, by an electric solenoid.



Harry then went on to say that he believed that the first

game to employ this device was made by Keeney, but he could not

remember its name. He said it was then used by Rockola on a

game that he believed was called FLASH. Harry then said he

remembered that game as having two indicating type counters, one

for "replays" and the other to indicate a "winning number". He

said that the "winning number" would start out as "1", and if the

ball went into the number "1" hole, a replay would be scored and

the "winning number" advanced to "2", etc. Harry then remarked

that in this way one replay was scored for each consecutive

numbered hole into which balls landed. He again emphasized that

the "free-play" Counter was mechanically linked to the coin

chute.



The rest of this phone conversation dealt with Harry's

current design efforts. He said that Stern Electronics was

trying to standardize on a longer playfield (23 7/8" by 46") as

was used in their game BIG GAME. The last thing he told me was

that he was currently working on a new game which he said would

probably be called (of all things) LIGHTNING!



My next phone call to Harry, which occurred on March 24,

1982, dealt mainly with things that coin machine historian Dick

Bueschel wanted me to ask him about.



I first asked Harry if he remembered a game designer in the

1930's named Bon McDougal (who Dick had heard about as having

been rumored to be the actual designer of CONTACT). Harry said

that he had known Bon, and that he did once work for Pacific

Amusements (PAMCO), but started with the company at about the

same time as he himself left, which was at the time of release of

his last PAMCO design, MAJOR LEAGUE in late 1934. Harry said he

thought Bon was responsible for the design of a series of 5 Pamco

games, referred to as "the quintuplets", the names of which he

could not remember. Finally, he remarked that Bon was better

known as a "wing walker" than a pinball designer.



Harry then asked me if I had ever found one of his CONTACT

games? When I told him I now owned one he asked if I would send

him pictures of it, which I later did. He then asked which size

game I had, and when I told him I had the "Junior" size (24" x

44") he told me that he made those in his own shop because Fred

McClellen did not want to make that size in his. Harry then

remarked that the idea of making a model of that size came from

Los Angeles May Company department store.



I next asked Harry if he remembered a game, supposedly made

by Exhibit, which had balls in the backboard (Dick Bueschel had

found a patent for that game and wanted to know if it had ever

been produced). Harry said he vaguely remembered the game, but

not its name. He then said he remembered he and Lyn Durant

working on it, but thought it may have only been a "prototype"

and never released. Harry went on to say that many games never

got past that stage. When I read him the names on the patent

(Eugene Kramer, Percy Shields, and Milton Gitelson) Harry said he

had heard of Kramer, had never heard of Gitelson, but had known

Percy Shields very well. In fact, he said, Mr. Shields once

worked for him in his shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.



While we were on the subject of "prototypes" Harry mentioned

a "puck" game he once designed at Williams. He said it was

called FLYING DUCKS which was build as a prototype only and never

went into production. Harry also said that at the present time

Stern Electronics had a game called CUE which never got past the

prototype stage.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: That was indeed true as I have since seen one of

these rare prototypes at several pinball shows in recent years

which is owned by Las Vegas "Super-collector" Tim Arnold)



I next asked Harry about another early game designer, Ken

Shyvers from Seattle, whom Dick Bueschel was interested in

finding out about. He said that Ken was a very good designer,

and that he designed the first "score totalizer" in conjunction

with Lyn Durant around 1936. (When I later told Dick Bueschel

about this he told me he had the patent for it!) Harry went on

to say that Ken also designed CANNON FIRE for Mills, then

remarking that Ken sold his designs on a "royalty" basis.



When I asked Harry if he had any pingames at home he replied

he had two. One was a home game he designed for Brunswick, and

the other SPLIT SECOND which he designed for Stern.



I next told him about Dick Bueschel interviewing the son of

Earl Froom, one of the designers of the pioneer pingame WHIFFLE.

Harry said that he had always wondered if WHIFFLE was the "first

pingame". I then told him about Mr. Froom having a copy of an

advertising film his father had made for WHIFFLE. Harry said

that he thought that was very interesting and would like to see

it someday. Harry then remarked that he had the capability of

"converting" 16mm films to video tape.



The final topic of this phone conversation concerned the

Stoner Company. I told Harry that I had just acquired a very

nice 1938 Stoner pin called ELECTRO. He then told me that Ted

Stoner was a "wood worker" and had a lot of wood-working

equipment in his plant, but did not have a router. Harry went on

to say that Stoner had been given a contract to make prototypes

for CONTACT. He said that he visited the Stoner plant at that

time and saw they were drilling the holes. He then told me that

he got them a router but found out that they were still locating

the hole positions "by hand". Harry then said that he once said

to Ted Stoner "no wonder you talk about your 'custom aristocrat

line'". Finally, he told me that Stoner made 750 CONTACT

prototypes.



This will conclude this installment of my detailing of my

phone conversations with Harry Williams. The present article may

seem somewhat short, but next time I will relate the phone call

which dealt primarily with Harry's famous pioneer pingame,

CONTACT. In that same article I will conclude this series with

the final bits of information I received from Harry during our

last telephone conversation before his untimely death. Most of

that conversation, however, contained "repeats" of things that he

had discussed during earlier conversations.





HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS - THE FINAL CHAPTER



ILLUSTRATIONS: 1934 CONTACT photo and Ad



The last two telephone conversations I had with Harry

Williams were both in 1982. The first of these was on April 7.

I phoned Harry on that day to ask questions regarding his famous

pioneer pingame - CONTACT. Before making the call I had prepared

a list of questions to ask him regarding that subject.



I first asked Harry if he had designed any games before

CONTACT? He told me that he started in pingame design designing

"replacement boards" (new playfields which could be substituted

on an existing game) to be used on Mills' OFFICIAL. He said he

did not put any names on these boards and that he sold them for

$5 each. Harry went on to say that this gave him experience in

determining the proper placement of the holes, pins, etc., on

playfields. He then said that those playfields were "custom

made".



Harry then told me that the first complete game he designed

was called ADVANCE and that it was "entirely mechanical". He

said that he sold it to Seeburg, adding that this game was the

first to use his now famous "tilt" mechanism, and also the first

pingame to have a "visible coin chute".



I next asked Harry about Fred McClellan and how he got into

the pinball business, and about his Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co.

(PAMCO)? He said that Fred was originally a carburetor

manufacturer and then decided to get into the games business.

Harry then said that Fred started by selling two large pingames,

MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN, which were actually made by a

cabinet company, Fred acting as a "jobber" for the games.



I then asked Harry how he came up with the idea for the first

"electric action" pingame, CONTACT? He told me that around that

time he was running low on cash, receiving very little royalties

from Seeburg for ADVANCE. He said he knew he needed a new idea

to make some money. Harry then told me that he went to seek

advice from a Christian Science practitioner who told him that

his worries were "blocking his mind" and advised him to relax and

meditate.



Harry went on to say that he took this advice and one day,

while relaxing on a park bench, he all of a sudden got the idea

for CONTACT. He said he quickly made a sketch of his idea on a

large pad of green paper which he carried with him. Harry told

me that his new design required electric solenoids, and he

wondered where he could obtain them. Then, as luck would have

it, he discovered that there was a shop next door to his small

shop which made just the items he needed.



Harry then continued, saying that he built a model of his new

game and showed it to Fred McClellan, whom he had heard about

because of his selling of MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN. He said

Fred thought the "electric action" was a great idea and wanted to

buy the rights to it, and have the cabinet shop who had build his

previous games build it. Harry said that he convinced Fred to do

his own manufacturing rather than sub-contracting it to someone

else. Fred agreed.



Harry went on to say that he actually made the "Junior" size

in his small shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, with the other

models being made in Fred's shop on Hope St. Later he said Fred

opened a plant in Chicago and also had a sales office in Portland

Oregon. Harry went on to say that CONTACT was produced for

almost one year (an extremely long production run for any

pingame, past or present) and he estimated that between 28 and 33

thousand games were actually manufactured. This, of course,

included all four sizes of the game.



I then asked Harry about the use of his "tilt" and bells on

CONTACT. He said the first models had neither attachment, but

that both were added somewhere during the first 100 games

produced. He then said that later models used an electric "pull-

chain" tilt mechanism he designed, having an indicator on the

playfield which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT". This

incidentally, was the forerunner of the still current "plumb bob"

tilt mechanism.



Finally, I asked about the several models of CONTACT and

their prices? Harry replied that the large model, "SENIOR",

which was 5 feet long, sold for $100 and that the "standard size"

"JUNIOR" model sold for $75. Regarding the small "BABY" model,

Harry said that the idea for making a small version of CONTACT

came from Los Angeles' Bullocks Department Store. He said they

wanted a "home model" to sell, and that they produced the BABY in

both a coin-op and a non coin-op model for home use.



(AUTHOR'S NOTE: You may recall from one of my earlier phone

conversations with Harry that he said it was the May Company

Department Store and the "Junior" model (which I believe was a

mistake). Well, his memory might have been a little hazy but at

least it appears that one of the large Los Angeles department

stores gave Harry the idea for his BABY model of CONTACT.)



That ended my conversation with Harry on that day. The

information I obtained during that phone call was used as the

basis for an article I wrote for the Summer 1982 issue of Pinball

Collectors' Quarterly entitled "CONTACT, Pinball Goes Electric".





The last phone conversation I had with Mr. Williams, before

his untimely death in September 1983, took place on Sept. 14,

1982.



We first again talked about the two games called LIGHTNING

with which Harry had been involved. He said that right after

CONTACT came out Fred McClellan sold the rights to Exhibit Supply

to make a "copy" of CONTACT (which they called LIGHTNING) for a

royalty of $1 per game. When Harry found out about this he said

he told Fred that he was "crazy" since he paid Harry $3 per game

to put out CONTACT. Harry went on to say that he suggested to

Exhibit that they make some changes to the playfield of LIGHTNING

so it wouldn't be exactly the same as CONTACT. He then said that

he offered to do that for them, and that Exhibit agreed.



I then asked Harry if he remembered getting a patent on

CONTACT, or the game he later designed for Exhibit called

BUTTONS, both of which Dick Bueschel had a copy of. He said he

did not remember having a copy of either patent.



I again asked Harry if he remembered that 1938 Exhibit game

(which I used to own) which was also named LIGHTNING. That game

had electro-magnets under the playfield which caused the ball to

do all sorts of crazy antics, just like was used on BUTTONS. He

said he couldn't remember that LIGHTNING particularly. When I

then asked him if LIGHTNING could have been a "prototype" for

BUTTONS, he said he didn't know.



The rest of this final phone conversation dealt with Harry's

current involvement in the games business. Harry said he had

designed a "pin-vid" (combination pinball and video game) and

sold it to Gottlieb. He said he thought that they might call it

either "THE CUBE" or "PAPARAZI". He then told me that the video

part of the game used a "Rubick's Cube" motif. Harry then

explained that this game had a pinball playfield in a video

cabinet and used mirrors. He then said that the pinball and

video play of the game was "fully integrated". Harry also told

me that both Bally and Williams showed interest in his game, but

that Gottlieb could use its existing CAVEMAN tooling to produce

it.



Finally, Harry said that he thought there was great potential

in videos. He then remarked that he was currently designing

video games for Stern Electronics, and also for a Japanese

company which he did not name.



Well, there you have it, a run-down of my memorable visit

with pinball pioneer Harry Williams in 1978, and the subsequent

telephone conversations I had with him during the next four

years. As I said at the start, there were many times during my

talks with this fine gentleman that it seemed that he was having

trouble remembering things correctly, but other times his

recollections seemed "crystal clear". At any rate, being able to

talk with him on so many occasions was certainly one of the most

enjoyable experiences of my life! Anyway, it's something I'll

never forget!



Updated Jun 05, 2005 Written by Russ Jensen
 

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