History of Bingo

Bingo – a game with a long and fascinating history

Today, we are used to playing electronic bingo and bingo online, but bingo is actually a time-honored game that’s been around for several centuries. No one ones exactly when bingo was invented, but we do know that bingo (sometimes under other names) has been offered at markets in Europe for a very long time.

The traveling groups that offered bingo at markets did not sell disposable bingo tickets since that would have been far to expensive in this pre-industrial society. Instead, they used sturdy bingo tickets made from wood or leather. Instead of marking the numbers with a pen during a game of bingo, the player would place a removable marker, e.g. a bean or a pebble, on top of the number.

The word bingo

Historically, word bingo has a strong connection to gambling, but it hasn’t always been used for the game that we call bingo today. The earliest known mentioning of the word bingo is found in an Italian 14th century text about a lottery. The text is called “Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia” which means The Rules of the Italian Lottery.

Bingo in 18th and 19th century Europe

During the 18th century, we know that French gamblers played a game very similar to our modern day bingo. This game included bingo tickets and the calling of numbers, just like the bingo that is played in bingo halls today. In the 19th century, German teachers began using bingo as a pedagogic tool to teach arithmetic, spelling, animal names, etc.

Edwin Lowe – the father of modern bingo

From Europe, bingo eventually spread to other parts of the world, including the United States where it was played at traveling carnivals. In December 1929, a New York toy salesman named Edwin Lowe had several business meetings booked in Georgia for the next day and decided to drive down a day in advance to make sure he would get to the meetings in time. Little did he know that this decision would become an integral part of bingo history.

When Lowe and his car got close to Jacksonville, it was already late in the evening. In the outskirts of the city, a traveling carnival had set up shop and Lowe decided to stop and take a look. Most of the booths and attractions were already closed since it was so late, but Lowe could see the lights shine from one booth and hear the agitated voices of a fairly big crowd that had gathered there. Numbers were being called out, and once in a while someone would shout beano!

According to Lowes account of the evening, he approached the booth and found a table filled with numbered cards. A member of the staff would draw little notes from a box and call out the numbers printed on each note. Every time a number was called out, the players would stare at their numbered cards and if they found the number on any of their cards they would mark it by placing a bean on top. Once a player managed to fill a whole row with beans (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) on one of his own cards he would shout BEANO and receive a small price from the staff.

Lowes liked what he saw and noticed how much the players seemed to love the game. He decided to turn it into a game that could be played at home, far away from carnivals and sideshows. Back in New York, the constructed a prototype and started playing with his friends before making two final versions that were made available in toy stores. Bingo quickly caught on and became and extremely popular game in the United States.