Bingo History

Learn About the History of Bingo

An Italian lottery started in 1530, the lottery known as Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia was born and has been held every Saturday since its inception. In 1778 word of this lottery spread to France and captured the interest of the intelligent community. During this period the version of the lottery we still play today was created.

Game cards were divided into three horizontal rows and nine vertical columns. Each row contained a total of nine squares which included five numbered squares and four blank ones, which were arranged randomly in the row. The columns contained ten numbers each: column one contained the numbers 1 – 10, column two 11 – 20, column three 21 – 30 and so on to the ninth column, which contained 81 – 90. Wooden chips marked with the numbers 1 – 90 were placed in a bag and drawn one at a time. Each player had a unique card and once a number that was called was on their card they marked it off. The first person to mark a complete horizontal row was the winner.

During the 1800s the popularity of lottery games rose in Europe. Card variations for the purpose of Education were created to aid children in learning their multiplication tables, spelling etc.

A game that started its way as the Italian lottery ended up in America via a carnival pitchman touring Germany. There he came across a lottery game and realized the potential appeal of this game for the carnival. He made a few revisions to the way the game was played and he changed the name to Beano.

In December 1929 while the carnival was near Atlanta, Georgia, a traveling toy salesman, Edwin S. Lowe, discovered it. Lowe who decided to stop at the carnival during his business day marched into the only open tent, the Beano tent. The tent was so crowded that Lowe was not able to play the game for himself.

Lowe watched as the people playing the game anxiously listened for the next number to be called and, if they had the matching number on their game card, covered it with a bean. The excitement and anxiety in the crowd was incredible. Once a player covered an entire row, they yelled “Beano!” Lowe watched in amazement as the pitchman attempted to close his tent , only to have the players insist he continues with the game. The games finally ended after 3:00 am and even then the pitchman had to turn players away.

Lowe immediately realized the huge potential of this game. once he returned to his home in New York, he formed his own Beano game by purchasing some beans, cardboard and a rubber number stamp and invited several of his close friends to play the game. There he saw the same excitement that he had seen at the Georgia carnival. One excited player finally had a complete row and in her rush to yell out the required “Beano,” she became tongue tied and yelled “B-b-bingo!” instead. After that night Lowe stated. “All I could think of was that I was going to come out with this game, and it was going to be called Bingo!”

Lowe’s initial Bingo games were played in two varieties: a 12-card set that cost a dollar and a 24-card set that cost two dollars. Once the success of Lowe’s Bingo game became evident, imitators came out of the woodwork. Lowe’s only request to his competitors was for them to pay him a dollar a year to call their games “Bingo.” Thus the name ” Bingo” became the generic name for the game.

A priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and his financially ailing church that merged Bingo with churches across the world. A church member had come up with the idea of using Bingo as a way to raise money for the church. But with only 24 unique cards to play bingo with, the priest was finding that there were half a dozen winners for every game. The priest contacted Lowe about producing a large number of unique number combinations for the cards. Lowe recognized the fund-raising potential of the game and enlisted the help of a professor of mathematics at Columbia University named Carl Leffler.

Leffler was charged with the task of producing 6,000 new bingo cards. He requested that he be paid on a per card basis. The more cards he created, the more difficult it was to come up with unique combinations. The increased number of bingo cards was exactly what was needed to make Bingo a staple at churches across the country and a sound source of fund-raising.

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