In the landscape of pinball, there are dozens of manufacturers. At this point in time we don’t have that many (Stern being top dog currently) but back in pinballs (illegal) heyday we had a good selection of companies. One of which was Williams.
In 1943 Harry Williams started Williams Manufacturing. His first seven products were common arcade games, but out of those seven two were pinball machines. Flat-Top and Laura weren’t anything exciting. In fact Williams took pre-existing machines, redid the cab art, and changed the playfield ever so slightly. With Laura there were no flippers. The game had 12 bumpers and a kick out hole. Flat-Top is essentially the same game. But it got Williams’s foot in the door of pinball. These games were produced during World War 2 so materials were hard to come back. Recycling other pinball machines was a smart move, but I have to wonder if people were tricked into thinking these were new machines.
Williams himself invented the “tilt” that all pinball machines have today. It was his way of making sure players weren’t cheating to get higher scores and prizes. Williams machines have a colorful history of having pinball firsts! In 1950 the game Lucky Inning introduced players to inward facing flippers. They were the first machines to feature mechanical reel scoring, Rainbow had the first active/rebounding bumpers. In 1953 they introduced the first two player machine and ramps. In 1960 they gave us the first moving targets, in 1963 we got drop targets. In 1979 the game Gorgar gave us electronic speech, and a soundtrack. In 1998 Pinball 2000 introduced the first video screen in a pinball ever. Everything Williams introduced in a pinball machine is still used today.
While solid state machines were introduced in 1975, William’s didn’t get on board until two years later. They did have two prototype’s in 1976 based off of previous electromechanical machines, Aztec and Grand Prix, but they were still releasing the former machines to the public. Their last electromechanical machine was Wild Card. 1977 gave us Hot Tip, a former electromechanical game. At this point Williams was only releasing solid state machines such as Firepower, Black Knight, Taxi and Pinbot.
In 1988 Williams took over Bally, but the companies still released pinball machines under their respective names. The company was overall doing great. In fact in 1992 they would give us the insanely popular The Addams Family game, which sold a record breaking 20,270 units. The only other game that has come close to that has been Twilight Zone with over 15,000 units sold. To this day no other game has come close to those numbers.
Sadly Williams called it quits with their pinball manufacturing in 1998. They still produce slot machines, and their subsidiary Midway Games still produced arcade machines. Despite the fact they exited the pinball business, people are still very interested in Williams machines. In 2008 there was a multi platform game called Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. With pinball currently rebounding in today’s world, I would love to see Williams make a comeback. I think out of every manufacturer out there, they could give Stern a real run for their money.