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A century later, the game evolved when Cincinnati resident Montague Redgrave invented the steel spring shooter, eliminating the need for a cue. By 1900, a tabletop version of the game became popular in Western saloons, where players could win prizes such as cigars or cash depending on how skillfully they played.
By the 1930s, games were being produced as they are known today, with themes and decorative backglass. However, the game-changing addition of the flipper and bumper came in the 1940s.
And that’s where the museum’s “Golden Age of Pinball” exhibit picks up. A room packed with games from the late 1940s to the early 1960s outlines that era. The exhibit draws heavily on games produced by D. Gottlieb and Co., which was known for its creative backglass designs.
Despite the fact that pinball machines were built to be played, visitors can’t play most of the games in the museum. That’s something Silverman knew he wanted when the museum was being built.
“I jumped at the chance to make this a museum, not an arcade,” Silverman said.
But he also recognizes the purpose of his beloved games, so a “Pay to Play” room is packed to capacity with 40 games. Visitors to the museum can pay 50 cents to play games as old as a 1951 Niagara Falls-themed game or more recent pop culture-themed games, including the Twilight Zone, Indiana Jones and Guns N’ Roses.
Though the museum is still getting settled, Silverman has plans to extend what it offers to the public. He hopes in the near future to set up a classroom where kids can learn how to build pinball machines.
The National Pinball Museum is located on the third floor of the Shops at Georgetown Park (3222 M St. NW). It is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $13.50.