Skee ball

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More traditional skee ball machines like this one do not include the two additional "100 points" holes, located on the uppermost corners of the machine, on either side of the "50 points" hole.

Skee-Ball is an arcade game and one of the first redemption games. It is similar to bowling except it is played on an inclined lane with fist-sized balls and the player aims to get the ball to fall into a hole rather than knock down pins. The object of the game is to collect as many points as possible by rolling balls up an incline and into the designated point value holes.


Skee-Ball was invented and patented in 1908 by Joseph Fourestier Simpson, a resident of Vineland, New Jersey.[1] On December 8, 1908, Simpson was granted U. S. Patent No. 905,941 for his patent “Game.” [2] Simpson licensed the game to John W. Harper and William Nice Jr. who created the Skee-Ball Alley Company and began marketing the thirty-two foot games in early 1909.[3] The first advertisement for Skee-Ball appeared on April 17, 1909 in The Billboard.[4] About two months later the first alley was sold.[5] Alleys continued to sell slowly over the next few years.

In January 1910, William Nice Jr. died unexpectedly leaving John W. Harper without the necessary funding to move the company forward.[6] The company struggled for the rest of 1910, 1911 and 1912. Simpson worked with Harper trying to move the company and the game forward, but they were having difficulty making any headway, and by December 1912 the Skee-Ball Alley Company was effectively dead.[7]

In 1910, Jonathan Dickinson Este of Philadelphia began playing Skee-Ball after his return from Princeton the previous year.[8] Over the next several years he became enamored with the game, so much so that in 1913 he helped Simpson and John W. Harper to kick-start the company again.[9] Este installed two alleys at a location in Princeton near the University to see how well they would do.[10] After a few weeks interest in the game fizzled, but Este saw something in the game and rented space in Atlantic City on the boardwalk in 1914 and installed Skee-Ball there.[11] He purchased the patents and all rights to the game from Simpson. Este hired Harper as general manager of his new company and incorporated The J. D. Este Company to build and market the game.[12] In 1917 Este enlisted into the military and turned over operation of the company to his business partners.[13] After his return in 1919 he sold The J. D. Este Company to his partners and exited the business.[14]

Este’s business partners renamed the company to simply the Skee-Ball Company.[15] They operated the manufacturing and distribution of the game until 1928 when the game was sold to Herman Bergoffen, Hugo Piesen, and Maurice Piesen, who incorporated the National Skee-Ball Company.[16] In 1929, the National Skee-Ball Company trademarked the name Skee-Ball.[17]

Under the reigns of the National Skee-Ball Company, the first national Skee-Ball tournament was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey at Skee-Ball Stadium.[18] The alleys that were played on in the tournament were significantly shorter than the early alleys that Simpson had built. Over one hundred contestants qualified to play in the tournament in Atlantic City. In the end $2400.00 in prizes were awarded to the winners.[19]

In 1935, Herman Bergoffen died unexpectedly in Atlantic City, New Jersey leaving Hugo and Maurice Piesen to run the National Skee-Ball Company.[20] In June 1936, The Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company bought all of the rights to the game and stood up a games division.[21] Wurlitzer produced more than five thousand Skee-Ball alleys and began selling them in December 1936.[22] Wurlitzer ceased production of alleys in 1937 as they had enough on hand that they did not need to manufacture more.[23] Beginning in 1942 Wurlitzer changed its focus from building amusement devices to supporting the war effort by building devices for the United States Government.[24]

As the war drew to a close the Philadelphia Toboggan Company contacted Wurlitzer to find out if they would be interested in either licensing the rights to Skee-Ball or selling it outright to PTC.[25] By January 1946 the deal between the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and Wurlitzer had been completed and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company was the new owner and manufacturer of Skee-Ball.[26] They would be until 1977 when Skee-Ball, Inc. was officially spun-off from PTC but still under the same umbrella ownership.[27] By 1984, Joe Sladek and three other partners had bought the company.[28] Over the next several years Sladek bought out the other three partners to become the sole owner of the company and renaming it Skee-Ball Amusement Games Inc.[29] In late February 2016 it was announced that Bay Tek Games, Inc. of Pulaski, Wisconsin would buy the rights to the game from Skee-Ball Amusement Games Inc. and the manufacture of the alleys would be moved to Pulaski.[30]

Super Ball!!, a version of skee-ball, was a pricing game on the American game show The Price Is Right from 1981 to 1998.

Skee-Ball is now a competitive and social sport being played in bars in North America. Skee-Ball leagues have begun to pop up under various banners including Skeeball World Tour[31] based in Cleveland, OH, Brewskee-ball, the United Social Sports banner[32][33] based in Washington DC, SkeeBOSTON [34] and The SKEE League [35] based in Chicago, IL. These leagues are rapidly increasing in popularity and are expanding the reach of Skee-Ball to new players.


Gameplay varies depending on the particular machine, but as a standard, the player, after inserting appropriate payment as coins, tokens, or their equivalent (such as a voucher or "club play" card) into the appropriate mechanism, receives a queue of (usually nine) balls made of either polished masonite or other heavy plastic and each approximately three inches in diameter. Each machine has an inclined ramp 10–13 feet long, up which the player must roll the balls. A sudden increase in incline at the end of the ramp (called the "ball-hop") launches the balls above the plane of the ramp toward a series of rings that direct the balls into holes of varying point values, the smallest and hardest to reach usually giving the most points. When the supply of balls is exhausted, the machine dispenses to the player a number of coupons based upon his final score. The coupons are typically traded at the arcade for prizes, the more valuable prizes requiring more coupons for redemption. Some machines award large bonuses of coupons to players who attain or surpass a posted exceptionally high score.

In some installations, particularly traveling carnival midways, prize-winning is achieved by scoring a certain minimum number of points within one game. This requires an attendant to hand out prizes immediately at the end of games, and is not common in arcade settings. Usually small prizes can be traded up for medium prizes and mediums for large. Perfect or nearly perfect scores earn the largest prize available, while very low scores may earn nothing at all.


A skee ball variation features in the Rock of Ages video game.

Mega Skee Ball is a variation of Skee Ball with physical dimensions much larger than standard size. Skee-Daddle and Mini Skee-Ball are smaller versions easier for younger children to play. A group in Toronto, Canada developed a variation called Riskee Ball that shoots fire. Some arcades feature a variation called Ice-Ball, which contains a cage with only a small opening for the balls to get through at the top of the incline.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 44
  2. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 44
  3. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 51
  4. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 55
  5. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 57
  6. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 61
  7. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 146
  8. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 153
  9. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 154
  10. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 155
  11. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 155
  12. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 157
  13. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 249
  14. ^ Cooper 2016, pp. 253-254
  15. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 254
  16. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 275
  17. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 367
  18. ^ Cooper 2016, pp. 287-290
  19. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 289
  20. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 305
  21. ^ Cooper 2016, pp. 311-312
  22. ^ Cooper 2016, pp. 336-337
  23. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 348
  24. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 348
  25. ^ Cooper 2016, pp. 355-356
  26. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 366
  27. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 383
  28. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 387
  29. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 387
  30. ^ Cooper 2016, p. 390
  31. ^
  32. ^ United Social Sports
  33. ^ Washington area bars where you can be a kid again: Skeeball
  34. ^ SkeeBOSTON
  35. ^ The SKEE League


  • Cooper, Thaddeus O.; Kreitman, Kevin B. (2016). Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball. NoMoreBoxes LLC. ISBN 9780998389707. 

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