Skee-Ball has been an arcade staple for over 100 years, but even more fascinating is the muddled history behind the popular arcade game. The game was invented by Joseph Fourestier Simpson, who filed the patent in 1907 and gained it in 1908. Skee-Ball was a hit, but something went wrong. Some reports say he suffered from financial ruin, and even worse, history would start crediting J. Dickinson Este as the inventor of pinball. In fact, according to Mental Floss:
“According to Thaddeus Cooper and Kevin Kreitman, co-authors of the recently-released Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball, Este was the beneficiary of Simpson’s innovation, but not the innovator. The authors cite their five years of research into the game’s origins and a key discovery at New Jersey’s Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, where, among other papers, Simpson’s 1908 patent for the machine resides.
‘The history has become really muddled, at least on the internet,’ Cooper tells Mental Floss. ‘Este, for one thing, didn’t have a son in 1909. He had twin daughters, much later on.'”
So what the heck happened? Este did invest into the company Simpson started, and opened a Skee-Ball arcade near Princeton. The game was initially a hit, but the popularity fizzled quickly. Este didn’t give up, though, and opened another arcade on the Atlantic City boardwalk. The game was a hit there, and thus Este bought all the rights and patents from Simpson. There’s really no bad guy in this situation, but rather just another business deal.
Skee-Ball has remained largely unchanged in the 100+ years it’s been around. It’s still a popular arcade game, and a lot of collectors have them in their homes as well. I enjoy the game a great deal, and have fond memories of playing it at Hershey Park with my dad. So here’s to you, Skee-Ball, and your muddled history.