A Brief History of Bingo
Did you know that bingo actually originated in 1530? Our modern version of bingo stems from Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia. In 1530, when Italy united, Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, the Italian National Lottery was formed and has been running weekly drawings ever since. In modern Italy, the Italian State Lottery is a crucial component to the nation’s budget, generating over $75 million.
The French press reported that in 1778 Le Lotto had become popular with intelligent members of society. In this classic Lotto version, a playing card that featured nine vertical rows and three horizontal rows were used. The horizontal rows each had four blank squares and five squares with random numbers. The first vertical row contained the numbers 1 to 10, the second had the numbers 11 to 20, and so on up to 90. The Lotto cards were designed so that no two cards were identical. Each player was dealt a card and a caller would pull numbered, wooden tokens from a bag and announce the number that was pulled. If the number appeared on the player’s card, they would cover it. The first person to complete a horizontal row won the game.
By the 1800’s Lotto games had become popular with educators. In the 1850’s, a German Lotto game was being used to teach multiplication tables to children. Along with mathematics, there were Lotto games for history, spelling, and animal recognition. Even today, Lotto games are doing well in a very competitive game and toy market. Milton Bradley offers a Lotto game that features characters from Sesame Street that is designed to teach 3 to 6-year-olds number recognition and how to count.
The Bingo that we all know of today was introduced to our society by a New York toy salesman, Edwin Lowe. One evening in 1929, Lowe was near Jacksonville, Georgia, where he had scheduled appointments for the next day. As he passed a country carnival, he decided to stop and check it out since he was ahead of schedule.
All of the booths were closed by the time Lowe had gotten there, except for one very crowded bo
oth. As he tried to see what the attraction was by standing on his tiptoes, Lowe saw what would be the beginning of
his contribution to the world of Bingo.
All of the players were gathered around a table had been covered with beans and numbered cards. The game was called Beano, a variation of Lotto. A wooden, numbered disk was pulled from a bag by the pitchman, the caller. As he announced the number, the excited crowd would eagerly check their cards to see if they had the called number. If they did, they would place a bean on the square that contained the number. Once a player made a diagonal, horizontal, or vertical line, they would shout “Beano!”.
Lowe tried to play the game himself but was unable to get a seat. The popularity of
it intrigued him so he stuck around to find out more about it. While waiting, Edwin noticed that t
he players almost seemed addicted to this simple game. They were so eager to play, th
e pitchman wasn’t able to close up his booth until about 3 a.m.
Once the crowd was gone, Lowe was finally able to get some more information about this unusual game. The pitchman had told him that he picked up on the game while traveling with a carnival in Germany. When he had returned to the U.S., the pitchman decided to make a few minor modifications, call the game Beano and created a very popular and lucrative carnival game.
Bingo is Born
After returning to New York, Lowe decided to see how they game would work by purchasing some numbering stamps, cardboard, and some dried beans. He then invited friends over to his apartment. Lowe assumed the role of pitchman and dealt each of his friends a card. It wasn’t long before Lowe saw the same eagerness and excitement in his friends that he saw in the players back in Jacksonville. Lowe also noticed then when one of the players were close to winning, that when she did win, she was so excited that she became tongue-tied and shouted “Bingo!” instead of “Beano!”. That excited moment brought about the creation of our beloved Bingo.
Edwin Lowe originally released two variations of Bingo, a $1 set that included 12 cards and a $2 set that included 24 cards. Almost immediately the game was a hit and put Lowe’s struggling company back on track.
A Mathematical Dilemma
Not long after Bingo became available on the market, a priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania approached Lowe with a problem the Father was having. One of his parishioners had the idea of using Bingo as a fundraising event in order to help the church with its financial issues. After acquiring several sets of the $2 Bingo game, the priest put their plan into action. However, it wasn’t long before problems began. Out of each game held for the fundraising, there would be a dozen or more winners. Lowe could easily see the tremendous possibilities Bingo could offer fundraising events. However, he could also see that the number combinations in his $1 and $2 sets were not going to work. In order to be effective for such activities, he was going to need a larger combination of numbers.
Lowe contacted Carl Leffler at Columbia University and explained his situation to the mathematician. He then asked the professor to create 6,000 Bingo cards and to ensure that there were no repeating number combinations. Agreeing to a per card fee, the professor began his work. However, after a while, coming up with new, non-repeating number combinations was becoming a challenge. Lowe had grown impatient and by the time the project was finished, the price per card had grown to $100. With the task finally completed, the E.S. Lowe Company finally had 6,000 non-repeating cards.
The Wilkes-Barre church was saved and soon after the word spread. Lowe was receiving thousands of letters asking for help with Bingo games. This lead to the first ever Bingo instruction manual and “The Blotter”, a monthly newsletter dedicated Bingo and distributed to nearly 40,000 subscribers.
By 1934, an estimated 10,000 Bingo games were being played on a weekly basis. Lowe’s company had thousands of employees occupying nine floors of their office building along with 64 presses operating 24 hours per day. Bingo was off with a blast and established itself with apple pie and baseball as one of America’s favorites.