A SHORT HISTORY OF AMUSEMENT ARCADES
By Tim Hunkin

Vending
machines

Working
models

Fruit
Machines

Novelty
Machines

Video
Games

Simulator
Rides

Alternative
Arcades

INTRODUCTION
Surprisingly little has been written about the history of amusement arcades. There are guides for collectors of antique slot machines but only one social history  (Nic Costa's Automatic Pleasures). This, despite arcades' far flung success –  every city in the world has them – and even every small town in Europe and the US.   
The history of arcades is inextricably linked to their most profitable and most notorious machine – the fruit machine or ‘one-armed bandit’ as it was named by the disapproving. Accused of promoting gambling and reducing vulnerable people to debt, the fruit machine has mired the history of arcades in controversy. Every country in the world has banned them at one point or another – and now though the machines are rarely still banned, they continue to be regulated in great detail. 
 
 
The domination of the fruit machine has hidden the other aspects of the amusement arcades’ history. There has always been a spectrum of machines from high stake gambling at one end, through low stake gambling and games of skill, to machines that are purely designed to delight and entertain at the other extreme. 
In the early 20th century arcades were at the forefront of the movies. ‘What the butler saw’ or mutoscope machines were many people’s first experience of ‘moving pictures’. It was the craze for these machines that started the first arcades – previously lone machines had just been placed in shops and bars. 

(The mutoscope works like a flicker book. Each frame of the movie is printed on a separate postcard.) Turning the handle rotates the drum and flicks the cards past the eyepiece.
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In the 1930s the ingenious electromechanical mechanisms and electric lights of pinball machines were highly advanced for their time. High scores are usually rewarded by extra playing time. 

In the 1970s, arcades were again at the cutting edge of technology with the first computer games – like pong (tennis) and most famously Space Invaders. 

This history does not attempt to be comprehensive, it just follows various avenues that particularly interest me.


Arcade in Berlin 1905


'Discount bicycle wheel' counter top game
 (far left) in a US grocery store 1890s

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German arcades 1920s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vending
machines

Fruit
Machines

Novelty
Machines

Video
Games

Simulator
Rides

Alternative
Arcades

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