Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

Get this vintage arcade fix - if you are lucky enough to locate them

Well before the advent of the modern video game, and even before Space Invaders, Pacman and Pong, arcade games existed for us to entertain ourselves and to spend our money on.

(left: fragment of Popular Science 1938 cover; right: "Sensorama" 1962, via)

These included driving games, sports games featuring baseball, basketball or bowling, fortune telling or horoscope machines, shooting games in a variety of formats, machines showing short films or slideshows, diggers and claw machines, which we still see today, and of course pinball, the most popular one of them all, which we will later look at in a separate article here at Dark Roasted Blend. This overview features a small, but nevertheless sublime, selection of the many arcade games that existed in years gone by.

(Super Jet Fighter, 1954, and "Space Pilot", 1968, via 1, 2)

Colour! Action! Thunder! Weirdness, too

The Mutoscope was an early motion picture device, which first appeared in 1894 and was the most popular coin-operated ‘peep-show’ device. The Mutoscope worked in a similar way to a flipbook, with some 800 photographs on a similar theme mounted on sturdy cards fastened to a circular core, almost like a Rolodex. Viewing time was about a minute and although there were a variety of topics on offer, the collections of images usually included soft-core pornography. These often had suggestive titles such as ‘What the Butler Saw’:

Check out the showings - full of thunder and action, complete with Felix the Cat and the Cock-Eyed Wonder:

(images via 1, 2, 3)

See more great flipbook viewers on this page (with some animations of how they worked).

Kinetoscope was a more sophisticated version of viewer based on threading the film. Apparently, one can still look through a Mutoscope in Disneyland's Main Street:

(images via)

This is the Strike bowling game (left):

(image credit: Liberty Games)

This one invited you to ‘Have a Go’, complete with a monkey design:

(images via 1, 2)

Pinball has been around for quite a while now and this machine dates from the 1930’s (left). On the right is a wonderfully entertaining game of shooting the row of cats with ball bearings:

(images credit: John Burke)

Another game from the same decade is this baseball design from 1933 (left). On the right is a 1942 Genco Baseball game:

(images via American Memorabilia, Slots Etc.)

Basketball Champ from 1947 (above right) was very popular at the time. The aim was to use the control to launch the ball into the basket, avoiding the defender blocking the way. Another baseball game, this one from 1949:

(images via 1, 2)

The Goalee hockey game was apparently ‘lots of fun’ and a ‘game of skill’ (left). On the right is a game based around bowling:

(images via 1, 2)

Driving games have always been popular. In Motorama, the toy car was suspended over a revolving landscape with images of other cars and general scenery. The steering wheel operated the car via the suspension device. Two player versions were also developed for this particular game:

(image via 1, 2)

In Auto Race, you played against another person, not the machine itself. The game was relatively simple, with the speed at which you spun the wheel determining how fast you could make your car reach the finish line:

(images via 1, 2)

(rigght: try to beat the "Golden Arm"! images via 1, 2)

Love Testers, sometimes known as Love Meters, first appeared in the 1930’s, but were revived in the fifties and there were even still some around as late at the seventies. Billed as a perfect way to calculate your sex appeal, these machines were a familiar sight in many old arcades:

(images via 1, 2)

Possibly the coolest vintage arcade machine EVAR

The Mold-A-Rama machine was invented in the mid-fifties. You could watch as the machine used injection molding to create a plastic figurine in the shape of an animal, submarine, plane, monster, train and so many more designs. These were the usual cheap souvenirs of your visit of course, but with these objects you could actually observe the manufacturing process. These machines were mostly located at theme parks, zoos, museums and sometimes at special events - everything about Mold-A-Rama here:

(images via 1, 2, 3, 4)

There is a whole Flickr pool devoted to these cool machines...

Space Age, Jet Gunners, etc.

Genco produced the Electro-Mechanical Sky Gunner in 1953. The player could see 3D pictures of planes in the viewer, using the handles to shoot. The gun could be moved up and down simply to adjust to the height of the player (left image). Also by Genco, Space Age arrived as mankind actually began to explore space in the late fifties (right):

(images via 1, 2)

In Jet Pilot from 1959, the player simulates flying a jet in a circle, using a steering wheel. Turning the wheel in one direction moved the plane, while reversing the spin acted as the brake, with the centre position holding the plane in position:

(images via 1, 2, 3)

Lunar Park (left); Chick Fest (right):

(images via 1, 2)

I did say at the outset that pinball machines would be treated as a separate topic here at Dark Roasted Blend, but I couldn’t resist sharing this great poster:

(image via)

These are just such great designs as well. Egghead from 1961 and this alien invasion themed pinball machine from ten years later:

(images credit: Pacific Pinball Museum, Melissa Harmon)

Sea Raider!

(image via)

The Zoltan fortuneteller machines, or ones of similar design, could be found in many arcades for decades:

(images via)

This 1973 Moto Champ arcade game allowed the player to use handlebars to race a motorcycle in and out of traffic to reach the finish line.

(image via)

Arcade Fun in other countries

Soviet-made arcade machines are still quite popular (mostly because of their huge nostalgia factor - it was a rare outlet of fun in the mostly dull Communist times)l. Here is site, devoted specifically to these rarities:

(images via)

Japanese arcade machines & rides have always been the cutest:

(image via)

Here is somewhat "not safe for work" vintage machine, so we can not display it, but you can peek in here.

And finally, how about Compugraph Foto, from back in 1976? These huge contraptions weighed almost 1000 lbs and were once seen in shopping malls, amusement parks and at special events. A computer took your photograph, and then within 90 seconds, the machine printed a sheet of paper depicting you, made up of computer graphics:

(image via)

So there you have it, a few blasts from the past. We’ll be taking another look at the world of arcade games, including pinball, in future articles right here at Dark Roasted Blend.


Read the rest of our vintage category ->

Simon Rose is the author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including The Alchemist's Portrait, The Sorcerer's Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic's Tomb and The Doomsday Mask.



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Blogger J_Mac said...

Whoa! Talk about a blast to the past. I remember going to the San Antonio zoo as a kid in the 70's and getting a few of the figurines from the Mold-a-rama machine. I think the best part was being able to watch the process as it created these neat souvenirs. Thanks for the memory.

Blogger krajci said...


Anonymous bbutler1975 said...

There's a museum in San Francisco at Fisherman's Wharf that has a rather sizable collection of old machines like these. Most of them actually work and are available for visitors to use. If you go, it's right next to the submarine (U.S.S. Pampanito).

Anonymous Marcelo Metayer said...

A beautiful baseball arcade game appears in "Thirtheen Floor" movie. Amazing post. Cheers.

Anonymous fijit said...

wow i'd love to see some of these games in the flesh. i vaguely remember seeing a mold-a-rama but as for the others I'd love to have a go!

Anonymous arcade machines said...

wow! what a wicked article full of great pics! really made us all smile here in the Bespoke Arcades office... Thanks!!
for a really modern take on arcade machines, check out our site..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The baseball arcade on used to be at the Jersey boardwalk as a kid... sort of nestled behind all the newer video games. I remember loving it as a kid, so detailed and games were pretty realistic.

Also, check out Sigma Derby... it's a coin operated mechanical horse racing game that I think only has one remaining functioning one at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Such a fun, old school game that costs nothing and people actually interact.

Great post.

Anonymous Sedik said...

There's still one of the love testers in Filey in England. Not one of the 30's ones but more recent

Anonymous Adam said...

Blast from the past indeed. Some great arcades here. And great pictures too - where did you find them? I particularly like zoltar! You still see a few of them about. As fun as arcades are, I'm still not sure I would swap my Xbox games for them!

Anonymous Ninjago Lightning Dragon said...

I'm convinced i remember that submarine game from when I was tiny (late 70's) , some classic games there :)


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