Bingo - A comfortable sport

Since the late 1920s, Bingo has been one of the most popular social pass-times in the United States, particularly among rural Americans. It was generally to be found available for play at County Fairs or Carnivals, and has been a standard offering at church socials, throughout the country.

Vintage Wooden Bingo Numbers

Vintage Wooden Bingo Numbers

The play of the game involves the distribution of pre-printed cards or sheets, to all paying players, with each card displaying a grid of 25 boxes – arrayed in five rows of five boxes each on a card. Twenty-four of the boxes are each numbered – with numbers that appear only once. The center-most box is always marked with a star and/or the words “Free Space”. The “dealer” of the game then randomly selects numbers – often from a rotatable wire cage, which when turned, arbitrarily catches a numbered ping-pong ball. When the chosen number is then called, each player checks to see if it’s on his card, and if so, that box is then marked – with a pen, an ink stamp, or in some cases, simply by being covered with a marker such as a bean or a kernel of corn. When a player has filled any row of five boxes – horizontal, vertical or diagonal – he shouts “BINGO”, and that hand of the game is over – with the winner then gifted with a prize, or a sum of cash.

Common Way to mark Numbers which have been called

Common Way to mark Numbers which have been called

The game’s origins appears to have been in Italy, in the early sixteenth century, with a city-wide or territorial lottery game called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia”. The popularity of the game eventually spread to France, where it was conducted under the title, “Le Lotto”. From the eighteenth century onward, it appears to have held popularity with many Frenchmen, particularly those of wealth and position. By the nineteenth century a form of this game had reached Germany, where variations appear have been employed as a teaching aid for children, in the subjects of arithmetic and spelling.

It was only a matter of time before the game’s introduction into the United States would come to pass (circa 1929). There it quickly found it’s place, mainly in rural parts. Oddly enough, in America, this pass-time was initially named “Beano”, possibly because it was so often the practice to mark called-numbers with beans instead of corn of other indicators. Marking a player’s card with beans, in fact, had even been practiced in Europe, well before the game’s American introduction.

As was characteristic of America’s commercial bent, an entrepreneurial, and highly imaginative toy salesman, named Edwin S. Lowe, drawing upon the games popularity, transformed the concept into a marketable toy and renamed it “Bingo”. But dissatisfied with the game, as it was initially structured, Mr. Lowe engaged the assistance of a professor of mathematics, who eventually created refinements to the basic card design, particularly with regard to the distribution of the random numbers, into the form we know today. Both the game, and the company – “E. S. Lowe” – became profoundly successful over the following decades, and in 1973 the entire enterprise, including rights and titles to all of it’s games, was sold to Milton Bradley for 26 million dollars. Mr. Lowe, who’d proved himself a profoundly successful entrepreneur, died in 1986.