Robin, a Jewish immigrant, operated a small coin-op repair shop and refurbished slot machines. When he first saw Chizewar’s Roll-a-Ball, he realized there could be great profit in designing his own version of the pin game and partnered with Rest, a key player at the Lawndale Sash and Door Company, to create his own version called Bingo. The pair set up a small manufacturing operation, but like so many others before them quickly fell behind demand. The pair therefore gave Gottlieb exclusive manufacturing and distribution rights to Bingo, which he completely redesigned to improve the quality and make it easier to manufacture. First advertised by Gottlieb in September 1931, Bingo proved so popular that not even he could keep up with the orders, so he subcontracted manufacturing to another firm managed by Jack Keeney.
Jack Keeney, one of the earliest coin-op distributors
Born in Jefferson, Iowa, in 1892, Keeney learned the coin trade early from his father, John B. Keeney, who began operating Mills slot machines at the turn of the twentieth century and established the J.B. Keeney Company, one of the first regional coin-op distributors, to sell machines across Northern Iowa. When Jack and his brother William entered the business, John Keeney changed the name of his company to Keeney & Sons. Jack gave up what could have been a promising football career to work for his father at age seventeen after graduating high school and led the expansion of the company into Minnesota. As the Keeney family continued to grow its business over the next few years, their distribution territory eventually spanned from Detroit to Seattle. In 1916, Keeney & Sons moved from Jefferson to Chicago to be closer to the coin machine manufacturers and inaugurated a mail order distribution business that allowed the company to sell machines across the entire United States and become the largest distributor in the nation. John Keeney retired in 1926, but the firm continued to operate under Jack and William until November 1933, when it was terminated. A new firm, J.H. Keeney and Company, replaced it in January 1934. In 1931, the Keeney brothers were just starting their own manufacturing operation, so they were happy to take on Bingo for Gottlieb. With both Gottlieb and Keeney producing Bingo, the pin game soon became one of the leading coin-operated products in the Midwest.
With Bingo proving such a massive hit, Robin and Rest reneged on their exclusive deal with Gottlieb when they were approached by a Chicago tool and die maker named Leo Berman, who started manufacturing the game in competition with Gottlieb. Unlike Gottlieb, Berman made deals with distributors across the United States to sell the game, allowing the pin game to break out of the Midwest and become a national sensation for the first time. Faced with this new development, Gottlieb returned to the drawing board and created his own pin game called Baffle Ball, which was better engineered and used higher quality components than Bingo. He also set up a more efficient manufacturing operation based on the assembly line method that had transformed the automobile industry, making Baffle Ball the first pin game to achieve true high volume production. Released in November 1931 through Keeney, with a Gottlieb version following soon after, Baffle Ball‘s combination of high quality and assembly line production allowed it to dominate the competition and become the first blockbuster pinball table. Before long, Gottlieb had taken over 75,000 orders for Baffle Ball, and even at a manufacturing peak of 400 cabinets a day, could only fill roughly 55,000 of them.