SI Vault
Victor Kalman
December 12, 1955
In the glitter of the All-Star in Chicago, bowling's best shine forth in a bright new era of chromium-plated, automatic splendor
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 12, 1955

Starlight On The Alleys

In the glitter of the All-Star in Chicago, bowling's best shine forth in a bright new era of chromium-plated, automatic splendor

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

The new, streamlined bowling centers, which cost tens of thousands of dollars compared with the thousands previously required, brought a new type of proprietor into the business. By 1938 such men as W. C. Durant, the auto magnate, had opened the first of a chain of bowling emporiums in Flint, Mich. Harry Warner converted Warner Bros. Studio One into a 52-alley layout in Hollywood. Lawyers, doctors, Wall Street brokers, baseball and movie stars jumped on the bandwagon.

The picture seemed bright, but there was a blemish: the success of these substantial businessmen, some of whom invested more than $100,000, depended entirely upon the pin boy. Many alleys were forced to operate part time because pin setters were not available. What was needed was obvious: a machine which would set pins automatically. Bob Kennedy recognized the need and did something about it.

"In 1935," Kennedy recalled recently, "an inventor named Fred Schmidt invited me to his shop at Pearl River, N.Y. He had a machine that seemed to have everything. It was compact, workable, with not too many parts. I was enthusiastic, but my superiors in Chicago said no. In a way you can't blame them. They were a bowling concern, not a machine company. Over the years they'd poured thousands of dollars into patents and research and couldn't come up with anything good.

"Well, a year or so after we came out with the 20th Century equipment I quit Brunswick and went to another firm. I looked up Fred Schmidt again. He hadn't got anywhere with his machine. We wound up forming our own company—Schmidt, an attorney named S. F. Hartman and I. I asked Hartman which was the best machine company in the world. 'American Machine and Foundry Co.,' he said. I went to see them the next day."

The rest is modern history. After trials, tribulations and war shortages, AMF started from scratch in 1946 and, in a remarkable eight months produced the first fully automatic Pinspotter. Kennedy, who meanwhile had returned to Brunswick (where he saved the billiard industry by substituting gum for impossible-to-get rubber in cushions), quit again to become vice-president of AMF Pinspotters Inc., a position he held until two years ago, when he retired. Today some 8,000 alleys are equipped with Pinspotters and installations continue at a rate of 300-plus a month.


With "automatics" an establishment may operate 24 hours a day (for night-shift workers), 365 days a year—and many do. Machines, or the promise of them in the near future, enabled businessmen to invest with confidence in plush suburban palaces far from the pin boy labor market but with space. Space for parking and space for spectators, neither of which the high-rental city centers could duplicate. The boom in Suburbia was on.

The revolution begun by Kennedy is being continued today by the manufacturers, especially Brunswick and AMF. Two years ago, with the success of the Pinspotter assured, AMF bought the National Bowling and Billiard Corp., Brunswick's chief competitor, and produced a complete line of equipment. At the same time Brunswick feverishly set about to design a pin-setting machine of its own—and succeeded. The Brunswick Pinsetter, which underwent trials throughout the summer at Paramus, N.J., was viewed by hundreds of proprietors who came from all sections of the U.S. and Hawaii. Satisfied with the results, Brunswick arranged for the Otis Elevator Co. to manufacture the machine, and production started in October.

This season several manufacturers have unveiled new equipment aimed at luring customers and assisting bowlers. The most startling development is AMF's Underlane Ball Return. The ball remains out of sight from the pit to the rear of the approach, where it re-emerges onto a rack called the Single-T. While it is too early to tell what effect the Underlane will have on the industry, it is certain to change the appearance of an establishment—for the better, in this writer's view—and it has an obvious advantage to the bowler in that he is not distracted by a ball return alongside him.

The Brunswick Crown Imperial line, introduced last spring at the ABC tournament at Fort Wayne, is ultramodern in design. A recently added feature is an electric hand drier at the end of the rack, displacing the unsanitary (and unsightly) towel.

Continue Story
1 2 3