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Flipperless The very first Whiffle Board (Automatic Industries, 1931)

The True History of the Whiffle Board
(by Paulin's daughter Lois Paulin Hollerman, with granddaughter Karen Kettering)​

Arthur L. Paulin, a carpenter by trade, was cleaning out his old barn, Christmas-time 1930, when he came across a curious old, dusty board with carved-out holes and about 30 nails in it. It looked as if it was about 50 years old.

He looked at the funny game-board for a few days and played around with it, until he came up with what we now know as the 'Whiffle Board'. The time in question was during the Great Depression when Youngstown, Ohio (Paulin's town) was in the midst of economic disaster due primarily to the closing of local steel mills. Money was so tight for Arthur Paulin that he decided to make this board game up for his daughter Lois Paulin as a Christmas gift.

His daughter loved it so much that she invited her friends to come over and play this fun board game. Well, next thing you know there was a line all the way around the house, kids waiting to play this board game! A neighbor of Paulin's came over and told him he thought he had something big here!

Paulin took the board game to a friend of his, Myrl A. Park, who operated a radio shop. Paulin asked Park, "If I make another one, could I sell it in your shop." Park was not optimistic about the idea. Park said, "You should put a coin device on it; let them pay to play."

Paulin liked that idea, and took the board game to another friend, Earl W. Froom. Froom was an electrical salesman. Between the two men they came up with a coin device. Paulin, Froom, and Park made a number of experiments with the board, which they dubbed as "Old Jenny".

Finally, they decided they had it perfected. Encased with a glass top, the board had a sloping playfield, a sliding panel to drop the balls in at the start of the game, and a spring plunger to shoot the balls. The idea was to put a nickel in the coin device and that would entitle you to ten (10) balls-- nine (9) white marbles, plus a red one, which counted double in points.

You would "shoot" to one end of the board and then the balls rolled down the board again and were deflected into various holes by nails in the board.

The three men placed the board game in a local General Store, and after one hour counted the money from the coin device - $2.60! The men could not believe it! Paulin said, "Let's build ten of these."

On January 28th, 1931, the three men went into partnership. Arthur Paulin was President, in charge of construction and manufacture, with 1/3 partnership. Earl Froom was Vice President, and in charge of sales also, with 1/3 partnership. Myrl Park came to assist Paulin and Froom with 1/6 partnership, and another man William Howell, was in charge of all records (i.e. the secretary), and came in with 1/6 partnership. The company was born! They called it "Automatic Industries."

All four men signed a joint note for $300.00 at the Youngstown Bank, the proceeds of which would be the working capital, to be expended for material, and stock in trade of said company.

The men rented a second floor of a building, but soon grew out of it. They decided to rent a house, and again grew out of that. They were making so much money Froom said "We've got to pinch ourselves every once in a while to figure out whether we are dreaming."

The men decided to build their own building, because the orders were coming in from everywhere. Automatic Industries was shipping these "Whiffle Boards" to every state in the union. They sold territory rights to dozens of people all over the country. Some of these people were the most prominent men in the country. The company would book orders averaging 2000 boards a month. Within a few years, they had passed the $250,000 mark for contracted Whiffle Board games! At that time, the company employed 53 men in the shop, and 11 men and two ladies to do the office work. Arthur Paulin said, "I love what I do, but what makes my heart feel good is that I am able to give 66 people jobs during the depression!

...Bad times ahead...

People and their mothers got on the bandwagon and tried to recreate Whiffle Board. A Chicago game manufacturer began producing copies of the game, and the 'generic name' for these machines eventually became 'Pinball games'. A company in North Carolina actually started copying Whiffle Board, and went so far as to label them "Automatic Industries." It got so bad, that racketeers got involved with the game business, and would often smash up other operator's games on location, and put their own games in their place. Froom said, "The problem got so bad that many places tried to pass laws banning pinball games, which often resulted in court decisions against the games business.

Then came the court battles - Paulin, Froom, and Park went to court to try to stop others from infringing on Automatic Industries' patents. The court battle lasted for many years! In 1937 a Federal Judge ruled that their patents were not strong enough to win. This was a bitter defeat for the men, after all those years.

It is to be believed that Earl W. Froom was the inventor of the Whiffle Board. He was not! He created the coin device for Whiffle Board, and was a partner of Automatic Industries. It was reported to the Paulin family that after Paulin's death in 1947, Earl Froom claimed that he was the inventor.

---this concludes the original article---


Not unexpectedly, the IPDB has some interesting things to add:
In converting Arthur L. Paulin's bagatelle design to an automatic coin-operated device, salesman Earl Froom solved a number of issues, including how to separate the player from the playfield (glass), how to recirculate the balls after play (playfield baffle/shuttle and ball elevator), and how to collect money (coin mechanism). What resulted was a game of such wild popularity in the United States that it caught the coin-op world by surprise, and caused innumerable imitations by other companies, leading into the pinball patent wars.

Whiffle is the game most often associated with the birth of pinball, but according to the Encyclopedia of Pinball Vol 1, the first true pinball was Charles P. Young's "Coin Game Board" trade stimulator of 1892, which was also glass-covered and coin-operated. The idea to add coin mechanisms to machines came even earlier, from British inventor Percival Everett, but it was Londoner Henry John Gerrard Pessers who was first to put a coin slot on a marble game, patented September 29, 1889.

So given the above, it certainly sounds like the 'fifty-year old game' Paulin discovered in his barn was in fact one of these earlier games. Interesting that the Paulins and Earl Froom seemed to take care never to mention what the original game actually was!

Indeed...
The Encyclopedia of Pinball Volumes 1 and 2 both state that the Whiffle playfield layout was copied from the British Corinthian bagatelle games (an example would be Witzig's 'Corinthian 15'). This could suggest that the game Paulin found in his barn was a Corinthian. --IPDB

And finally, -here- is a VP re-creation of the game to try.

--Article cleanup, further notes & updated images added by Ike Savage of Pinball Nirvana, with credit to the Pacific Pinball Museum, Jeff Elie, and other contributors at the IPDB. Edit: Article now moved from resources in to the appropriate section.
 

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