Skee-Ball is an arcade game and one of the first redemption games.

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It is played by rolling balls up an inclined lane. The object of the game is to collect as many points as possible by having the the ball fall into holes which have different point values assigned to them. Skee-Ball was invented and patented in 1908 by Joseph Fourestier Simpson, a resident of Vineland, New Jersey.[1] On December 8, 1908, Simpson was granted U. S. Patent No. 905,941 for his patent “Game.” [2] Simpson licensed the game to John W. Harper and William Nice Jr. who created the Skee-Ball Alley Company and began marketing the thirty-two foot games in early 1909.[3] The first advertisement for Skee-Ball appeared on April 17, 1909, in The Billboard.[4] About two months later the first alley was sold.[5] Alleys continued to sell slowly over the next few years.

In January 1910, William Nice Jr. died unexpectedly, leaving John W. Harper without the necessary funding to move the company forward.[6] The company struggled for the rest of 1910, 1911 and 1912. Simpson worked with Harper trying to move the company and the game forward, but they were having difficulty making any headway, and by December 1912 the Skee-Ball Alley Company was effectively dead.[7]

In 1910, Jonathan Dickinson Este of Philadelphia began playing Skee-Ball after his return from Princeton the previous year.[8]Over the next several years, he became enamored with the game, so much so that in 1913 he helped Simpson and John W. Harper to kick-start the company again.[9] Este installed two alleys at a location in Princeton near the university to see how well they would do.[10] After a few weeks, interest in the game fizzled, but Este saw something in the game and rented space in Atlantic City on the boardwalk in 1914 and installed Skee-Ball there.[11] He purchased the patents and all rights to the game from Simpson. Este hired Harper as general manager of his new company and incorporated The J. D. Este Company to build and market the game.[12] In 1917 Este enlisted in the military and turned over operation of the company to his business partners.[13] After his return in 1919 he sold The J. D. Este Company to his partners and exited the business.[14]

Este’s business partners renamed the company to simply the Skee-Ball Company.[15] They operated the manufacturing and distribution of the game until 1928 when the game was sold to Herman Bergoffen, Hugo Piesen, and Maurice Piesen, who incorporated the National Skee-Ball Company.[16] In 1929, the National Skee-Ball Company of Coney Island, New York, trademarked the name Skee-Ball.[17][18]

Under the reigns of the National Skee-Ball Company, the first national Skee-Ball tournament was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey at Skee-Ball Stadium.[19] The alleys that were played on in the tournament were significantly shorter than the early alleys that Simpson had built. Over one hundred contestants qualified to play in the tournament in Atlantic City. In the end, $2,400.00 in prizes were awarded to the winners.[20]

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