Pinball pioneer and inventor Alvin J. Gottlieb died on Oct. 14 in Florida. He was 86.
Alvin was the son of David Gottlieb, who in 1927 founded the eponymous D. Gottlieb & Co. pinball and arcade game factory in Chicago. Alvin was born the same year his father opened the factory where he would spend almost four decades building pinball machines. Pinball discussion and fan sites, like Pinside.com, lit up last week with condolences and praise for Alvin.
D. Gottlieb & Co. first produced mechanical tables and later made electromechanical pin games starting in 1935. Among its many achievements, Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty (1947) is considered by industry historians to be its most important release because the machine included flippers. While flippers were already used on many games prior to 1947, they were the same manually operated bats used on baseball arcade games. Humpty Dumpty, however, was the first game made with electromechanical flippers, and this innovation gave players the ability to shoot the ball back up the playfield to get more points. Gottlieb's most popular pinball machine was Baffle Ball (1931).
D. Gottlieb & Co. began making solid-state tables in the late 1970s. The first of these were remakes of its electromechanical properties like Joker Poker and Charlie's Angels. In 1977, Gottlieb was bought by Columbia Pictures. After Coca-Cola Co. had acquired Columbia in 1983, the amusement machine assets were transferred to a Coke subsidiary, Mylstar Electronics, but this move was short-lived. By 1984, the arcade videogame industry in North America had crashed, and Coca-Cola sought to divest itself of Mylstar. The Gottlieb pinball assets were bought out by a management group, which would continue to manufacture pin games under the corporate name Premier Technology.
Alvin Gottlieb would later return the family name to the pinball industry, but on a first-name basis. After the collapse of coin-op video in the mid-1980s, pinball experienced a comeback. Alvin G. & Co. was one of several new manufacturers entering the field; Capcom Pinball and Data East Pinball (funded by Japan's Data East) were among the others entering the segment, which was still dominated by Williams Electronics.
The end of the 1990s saw another downturn in the industry, with Alvin G. and Capcom Pinball closing in 1996. Premier Technology, whose games still carried the original Gottlieb name, also shut down; Barb Wire was the last Gottlieb game. That same year, Data East's pinball division was acquired by Sega and became Sega Pinball. By 1997, Sega Pinball and Williams were the only pinball companies left. In 1999, Sega sold its pinball division to Gary Stern, president of Sega Pinball at the time, who renamed the company Stern Pinball. By this time, Williams was only selling about 4,000 units, and it eventually exited the pinball business.
Alvin G. & Co. created and produced about a dozen pinball machine titles between 1991 and 1996; A.G. Soccer-Ball, an uncommon head-to-head flipper game, was its first and Slam 'N Jam was the last. Alvin Gottlieb was inducted into the Pinball Hall of Fame at the 2006 Pinball Expo.
He is survived by his children Laura, Daniel, Michael and Joseph; grandchildren Stephan, Lisa, Aryeh, Zvi, Nathan, Noah, Mitchell and Maxwell; and great-grandchildren Mordechai, Ayla and Eden.