Bingo is a relatively new game, descendent from lotteries of old. Lotteries were
first organized and used collectively by the Italian government in the 1530's.
Bingo's history stems from a French lotto lover who developed an alternative version
of the lotteries that existed at the time. The initial alteration had three horizontal
rows and nine vertical rows with numbered and blank squares in random arrangements.
The columns were broken into sets of 10 numbers, 1-10, 11-20, all the way up to
90 in the last column. The bingo balls were chips in those days, and pulled out
of a sac by the caller. The first player to cover a horizontal row was declared
In the 1800's Bingo variations began to be used as teaching devices. Germany used
a version intended to teach its youth multiplication tables. Other educational
lotto games existed for spelling, history, biology, you name it! This trend has
never died, a quick walk through your local toys-r-us will most likely reveal
a Milton Bradley variation of the game with Sesame Street characters, intended
to teach numbers and counting.
Up until this point though, bingo was not bingo, it was still known as a lotto
game or variation. The coining of the term bingo is most often attributed to a
slip of the tongue, in the excitement of yelling 'Beano'! Beano was the name of
a carnival game traveling around New York state around the same time that Edwin
S. Lowe was searching for a game to rescue his struggling toy company venture.
Lowe tells the story of going back to New York and gathering up beans, rubber
stamps and cardboard cards to hold his own beano get-together with friends. As
a sort of test Lowe acted as the caller, and it wasn't long before
he realized the addictive qualities of the game. In one of these initial games,
a friend of lowe's was fast approaching a winning card as Lowe watched with facination.
As the woman approached the win she became more and more exciting, more tense,
and finally when she won she jumped up and tried to stammer out 'beano!' but it
came out garbled as 'bingo!'.
Lowe describes the moment as momentous (yes, that's how I'm describing that),
and recalls knowing at that point in time he would be marketing the game as Bingo!
One story always mentioned when discussing the history of bingo is about the one man
who went insane over the game (yes, a million women have followed suit). The tale
goes as so: Lowe was approached a couple of years after the release of Bingo by
a parishioner who had adopted the game as a church fundraiser. The parishioner
had come across the problem of cards with the same number combinations, in which
there were multiple winners on the same game. To circumvent this Lowe approached
a preeminent mathematician of the time, Carl Leffler of Columbia University. Leffler
took on the task of creating 6000 unique Bingo cards, slowly working them out
one card at a time. Being paid on a cards produced basis, Leffler found the more
he made the harder his job was, and near the end was charging $100 for each unique
card produced. As the story goes, soon after completing the task of creating all
6000 cards, the professor went insane, perhaps by direct result! The rest, as
they say, is bingo history.