Air Hockey History - Where and How it Started

Air Hockey History
Where and How it Started

Air Hockey History

Air hockey is an arcade game beloved by many. It's a fast-paced and exhilarating sport that requires fast reflexes and knowledge of angles and geometry. And, who doesn't love watching that puck glide seamlessly across the table?

With minuscule holes dotted across the table that blows currents of air, the air hockey table is a table sport, unlike any other.

Rough Beginnings

You may be surprised to know that air hockey was invented by a group of men who worked for a billiard company.

 "A billiard company? How odd," is what some of you might be saying right now. If you think about it, though, air hockey has a lot to do with knowing your angles and how your puck will bounce off the edge, which is similar to billiards.

Phil Crossman, Brad Baldwin, and Bob Kenrick are the names of three men who created the first air hockey table, although, they didn't get it right away. They worked for Brunswick Billiards, and in the late 1960s, they set out to create a game that had a frictionless surface. 

Their original plan was to use perforated wood as the playing surface, but this idea didn't work out, and they were left scratching their heads for many years.

Back To The Drawing Board

Their frictionless table idea remained at a standstill until their coworker, engineer Bob Lemieux, stepped in to help. Bob was a big ice hockey fan, and the way the puck glided so effortlessly across the ice reminded him of his coworkers' project.

He wanted to use their project to create, essentially, a mini ice-rink without the ice. Bob partnered up with the trio, and in 1972, the first air hockey table was born.

Air Hockey Table First Design Patent Application

Air Hockey Table - Initial Design

Air Hockey Tournaments

The 1970s was the golden era for tabletop games. You were hard-pressed to find a restaurant that didn't have a billiards or Foosball table in it. Air hockey fit perfectly into this genre, and businesses all over America were eating up the creative new invention. It wasn't long until air hockey tournaments were being held in cities across America.

Only two years after the product's invention, Brunswick Billiards hosted the first-ever air hockey tournament in New York City. The match was held in a hotel and was commentated by no other than
Marv Albert

Marv Albert is a sportscaster and has been known as the "voice of basketball."

The grand prize for the tournament was $5,000, and people were lining up to get in on the action. By the end of the night, the competition had boiled down to two players, a college student named Barnett and another player history only knows as "The Spiderman."

Spiderman was also a college student, but he only enrolled in classes so he could participate in the tournament. 

By the end of the night, The Spiderman was the champion, but Barnett still walked away with a $1,000 prize. Not bad, right?

Air Hockey Tournament

Source: theahpa.com

Sputtering To A Halt

Brunswick Billiards stopped producing air hockey tables in the late 70s. The demand for air hockey tables had dropped off, and although there is no apparent reason as to why, there are several speculations. Air hockey table owners across America were soon discovering how poorly made the tables were. 

These games were not exactly cheap, and people were not interested in spending their hard-earned money on a new one. After all, you wouldn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on something that is just going to break, right?

Another theory blames the invention of new and exciting arcade games, such as Pong and Pac-Man. People were ditching their air hockey paddles for video game paddles.

Rising From The Ashes

Whatever the reason may be for the decline of interest in the game, avid air hockey player Mark Robbins was not impressed. Eager to revive the dying sport, he rented a box truck and drove cross-country collecting as many used air hockey tables as he could. After storing his beloved air hockey tables in a Minnesota barn, he approached Dynamo, a company that creates Foosball tables.

In 1985 he asked, or rather, begged them to improve upon the air hockey table and create a high-quality and durable game. Dynamo complied and created the modern air hockey table style we have come to know and love today. 

These days Air Hockey tables are available in all range of sizes, from 3' to as large as 9'. And then, there are also mini Air Hockey tables for kids and teens to play with.

The United States Air-Table Hockey Association

Like any other sport, the majority of the players are just in it for fun, but there are always some people who rise above the others.

In 1975, Phillip Arnold, a champion air hockey player, formed the United States Air-Table Hockey Association (USAA). He established the USAA to create a set of rules and guidelines so that all players would be on the same page.

Since 1975, the USAA hosts a worldwide championship every year. Some of the winners who have been crowned number one in the world come from Russia, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Venezuela.

Some of these players have been known to slide the puck at speeds over 100 mph.

The Lone Star State

Of the top 50 best worldwide players of Air Hockey, 24 of them are from one specific location, Texas. You may be shocked that almost half of the best players in the world come from Texas, but it's a little less surprising when you learn Phil Arnold and Mark Robbins are both from the Lone Star State.

Their love for air hockey is so infectious that everyone in Texas must have picked up on it!

Of those 24 Texans, none of them hold the top two spots in the list for the best Air Hockey players in the world. Billy Stubbs is from Chicago and has an impressive four world championship titles under his belt. The other spot belongs to Davis Lee, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area and has landed on the top ten board 33 times.

A Closing Note

Air hockey is closing in on its 50th anniversary soon, and the game is still going strong.

The next time you see an Air Hockey table while you're out with your friends or family, you can wow them with the rich history of the game.

Kevin James
 

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