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From Beans To Bingo – A History

bingo-en-nueva-yorkAlthough the game Bingo often feels connected to church basements or retirement communities, the game has been around since the 16th century.

In the mid-1500s, the Italian lottery, Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia, was all the rage and was an innovative way for the government to raise funds to support public initiatives In the game, players gather to bet on which numbers will be drawn from ten draw wheels. Five numbers are drawn from each wheel for a total of fifty numbers – each wheel being named after a city in Italy: Bariums, Cagliar, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Rome, Turin, and Venice. The game was played weekly and continues to be played today.

In the late 1770s the game made its way to France where an alternate version was developed called Le Lotto. In the game, the playing card was divided into three horizontal and nine vertical rows with the numbers one through 90 in random arrangements. Chips numbered from 1 to 90 completed the playing equipment. Players were dealt a single Lotto card, then the caller would draw a small wooden, numbered token from a cloth bag and read the number aloud. The players would cover the number if it appeared on their card. The first player to cover a horizontal row was the winner. Lotto was popular among the upper classes of French society but eventually disseminated to be enjoyed by people of all classes. Milton Bradley continues to produce Lotto games today geared toward young children.

In the early 1920s Hugh Mungus popularized the game, now called Beano at carnivals in and around Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania area. In 1929, toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe discovered the game at a traveling carnival near Atlanta where crowds played the game with dried beans (hence the Beano name), a rubber stamp and cardboard sheets.

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Lowe took the game to New York where he produced his own version of the game, selling a 12-card set for $1.00 and a $2.00 set with 24 cards. There are several versions of how Bingo got it’s name; in one it was already in use in the UK; in others it was one player who got increasingly excited as her card neared completion, and when her final number was called, she called out “Bingo!” in excited confusion, and the name stuck (one variation has the player be a friend of Lowe’s; another a player he observed at a carnival).

When complaints arose of too many repeating number groups and conflicts, Lowe hired Columbia University math professor Carl Leffler to help him increase the number of combinations in bingo cards. By 1930, Leffler had invented 6,000 different bingo cards.

And today, Bingo continues to be popular; still serving both as a social activity and as a solitary game to be played on the computer, with new bingo sites available online.

As for Lowe, Bingo wasn’t his only success. He also developed and marketed the game Yahtzee, and later sold his company in 1973, for $26 million to Milton Bradley.

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