One would think that bingo has been around forever, but in fact, it was only introduced to the United States in 1929. At the time, the game of bingo was known as “beano,” because players marked their cards with beans.
The game of bingo was first played at a county fair in Jacksonville, Georgia. It was a struggling traveling toy salesman from New York named Edwin Lowe who made the game famous. Lowe was early for a sales appointment in December, 1929, and decided to stop in on the county fair. It was late at night and only one tent remained open at the fair. That tent was the “beano” tent.
The pitchman in the crowded tent pulled small wooden disks from an old cigar box and then called the number out loud to those seated around him in a horseshoe fashion. The players eagerly checked their cards and placed a bean on the appropriate numbers. This sequence continued until one of the players completed a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line on the card with beans. When a player shouted “Beano,” the card was checked and the winner received a kewpie doll.
“The pitchman wanted to close up, but every time he said, ‘This is the last game,’ nobody moved. When he finally closed at 3 AM, he had to chase them out,” said Lowe. “I couldn’t get a seat (to play). But while I was waiting around, I noticed that the players were practically addicted to the game.”
Based on the excitement shown by players at the fair, Lowe knew that there was something special to this new numbers game. Being in the toy business, he also realized that Americans wanted something to entertain them—an inexpensive activity to be played during the Depression era.
Lowe began hosting weekly games at his apartment in New York City. He designed the first game using dried beans, cardboard, and a rubber number stamp. He invited friends over to the play the game and saw the same excitement that he experienced in the south. During one game at his apartment, one woman excitedly got tongue-tied when she won and instead of shouting “beano,” she shouted “bingo!”
“All I could think of was that I was going to come out with this game and it was going to be called Bingo,” said Lowe. The initial Bingo game retailed for $1.00 and had twelve different cards in it. There also was a larger edition of the game that sold for $2.00 that had 24 cards in it.
Unfortunately for Lowe, he was not able to trademark the name Bingo since it was already determined to be in the public domain. Hence, he immediately had a swarm of competitors.
Soon after, a Catholic priest in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania saw the opportunity to use bingo as a fundraising tool for his church. At the time, churches were struggling for donations as the economy was at an all-time low. The priest bought several of the $2.00 versions of the game, but with the large crowds playing in the church, he found that there were several winners per game that had to share the winnings. The priest approached Lowe about the possibility of offering more numerical combinations for the cards.
Lowe, together with Carl Leffler, a mathematician from Columbia University, worked to expand the new game of bingo. Leffler helped increase the number of cards available to players by creating more bingo card number combinations. By 1930, there were over 6000 different bingo card combinations and the game was beginning to catch on in a big way.
By 1934, over 10,000 locations in the United States were sponsoring weekly bingo games. Lowe’s once struggling company had over 1000 employees. His company was said to be using more newsprint than the New York Times!
Bingo has become an American staple, just like baseball and apple pie. And, it’s all thanks to a once struggling toy salesman from New York who, by chance, walked in on a beano game in Georgia.
The early origins of Bingo can be traced back to the mid 1500s
The early origins of Bingo can be traced back to the mid 1500s to the Mediterranean country of Italy. In 1530, after Italy's unification, the national lottery was formed. The Italian gentry, and thereafter the German nobles, were very excited about this lotto-type game and played it while entertaining large parties. The Germans added an educational side to the game and used it to teach students math, history and spelling.
The lotto game arrived on the North American shores in 1929 and was known by the name Beano. It was first played at carnivals in Georgia and was discovered by Edwin Lowe, a toy salesman from New York. Lowe had been drawn to the crowd at the carnival stand offering the game of Beano and he approached the man running the stand. Lowe was informed that the stand manager had found the game while touring Germany with the carnival troupe and it had grown on him.
Lowe decided to try out a home-version of Beano - he purchased some beans and made up a few cards with number combinations. His friends thought the game was amazing and the managed to draw quite a crowd. The story goes that one woman got so excited when she had filled her card with beans, that she got tongue-tied and screamed out the words BINGO, instead of BEANO. The name stuck and become known as Bingo henceforth.
Lowe became the chief marketer and producer of Bingo. The popularity of Bingo spread and soon Lowe was approached by a priest who thought that the game could be the perfect fundraiser. Lowe quickly understood that he would have to start mass-producing the game in order to keep up with the orders. With the help of a retired mathematician, Lowe produced 6,000 number combination cards and was all ready to set the Bingo world alight. By the mid 1930s there were an estimated 30,000 weekly games of Bingo being played across the United States.
Roadkill bingo is a game in which the pictures of 24 different animals are placed randomly in a grid, printed on paper or cardboard. The game is traditionally played in vehicles during long distance travel. When a dead specimen of one of these animals is spotted by a player, that square in the grid is marked off with either a bingo blotter or some other writing instrument.
Small poker-like chips may be used to designate spotted dead animals, however the cajoling due to bumps in the road make this a less viable option. Traditionally, only the first person to spot the roadkill is entitled to mark off the corresponding picture. As in regular bingo, the object of the game is to spot a sequence of five dead animals which are in the same row or column on the bingo card. At the instant that five in a row is achieved, that player is obligated to yell "bingo", loudly and clearly, and the player is said to have "got a bingo."
Prizes for bingos are typically decided upon before the commencement of play. Spotting five dead animals in a row whose pictures are along a diagonal of a card also counts as a bingo. Four corners may also count as a bingo. The center square is often free, meaning that no dead animal need be spotted to mark it.
Controversy may arise when a dead animal is spotted which may not technically be classified as roadkill, and when two players simultaneously spot the roadkill. Players in the front seat have a clear advantage, however, the driver must have someone else mark his or her card. To promote brevity of games, regional variations include animals more likely to be found dead in the particular locale. The West Coast version was played by soldiers in Saudi Arabia during operation Desert Storm.
This was an interesting story. I don't care for the game. I use to go with the wife and play at a local church. I had good luck at the game. I won the first time I played and I am ahead. The wife picked up on my feelings and now goes with her girl friends which is fine with me.
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