Perfect for both kids and adults alike, nowadays air hockey provides entertainment, fun, and a competitive environment where skills are put to the test. You can play it in the comfort of your own house, or visit a nearby arcade and play competitively. However, this wasn’t always the case. But how did it become like this? What was the first spark for its creation?
The first concept for air hockey was developed by a group of three men – Brad Baldwin, Phil Crossman, and Bob Kenrick – in 1969. All three of them were Brunswick Billiards employees, a company that produced pool tables, and they all wanted to create a new type of surface, one that was frictionless. While they had decided on a few details – the surface had to be wood, and it had to have perforated holes in it – they couldn’t take their idea further, as they had come face to face with a sudden impediment – they had no way of redirecting the air through the holes.
A New Spark
While they did manage to obtain a patent for their invention, they were stuck and unable to continue it, until 1972, when Robert Lemieux, also known as Bob Lemieux, succeeded in taking the trio’s idea a step further. Robert Lemieux was a retired ice hockey player, so, when he decided to pair up with the trio, he proposed an alternative and a solution to their problem – to add a thin disk, two players and a goal. With the Brunswick Company backing up it up, the project was a huge success.
The Glory Period
During the middle of the 1970s, the game brought large income, as more and more people gained an interest in the game. One year after its public release, in 1973, the Houston players decided to create their own association – Houston Air Hockey Association – to create rules for the game and ensure its local promotion. Two years later, in 1975, the same happened in Texas, with the Texas Air-Hokey Player Association.
The Tournament and Official Association
In 1974, the first Air Hockey World Championship tournament was held, with the help of the popular sportscaster Marv Albert who narrated the intense gameplay. Held in New York, the prize was not only the title of “Best Air Hockey Player in the World” but also the large sum of money of $5000. Therefore 31 champions lined up to ‘battle’ each other for the prize. A year later, in 1975, J. Phillip Arnold founded The Unites States Air-Table Hockey Association, or USAA in short, which not only established but also made sure the new game rules were applied.
In the late 70s, the game’s popularity started to decline, as the age of video games started to flourish. Less and less players gathered to play air hockey, as coin-arcades become more and more popular, and in 1983 even Phillip Arnold was ready to give it up. He even made a memorable speech of how the air hockey players were going to become ‘a dying breed isolated from the rest’ of the society, of how they were to become a ‘despised cult’.
Not Yet Forgotten
Arnold’s words didn’t land on deaf ears, as a fellow air-hockey enthusiast, Mark Robbins, managed to keep the game floating. He managed to gather the remaining hockey tables in a barn, contacted the last, remaining hockey table manufacturer, asking for a redesign of the concept – similar to the original, but with an addition of Formica toppers. In 1985 Robbins managed to convince one of the most prolific manufacturers of Foosball tables at that time – Dynamo Corporation – to include into their range of free-time activities the air-hockey table, with its revamped Formica design.
While the first sales weren’t exactly the number Robbins had hoped for, he never gave up, as he was determined to revive the game, regardless of how long it took. Staying true to his conviction, he dedicated almost 8 years to his project, managing, in 1993 to bring Dynamo’s sales into thousands every year.
Air Hockey Nowadays
Despite its clunky beginning, nowadays air hockey has risen in popularity, becoming the soul of any game room and arcade. Since there’s no age restriction to it, as adults and kids alike can enjoy a fun game, several table models have been created to suit the audience. Therefore, if you’re planning on having a compact, lightweight, easy-to-carry table, one that is perfect for kids and beginners alike, then the small-sized units will do the trick. If you’re looking for a more stable, durable table, the medium-sized is the perfect one. However, the best air hockey table is the one you can find at any game arcade, and professional tournaments, as such a table will have all the necessary features to make the game memorable.
All in all, it took a while for the game to flourish and become what we know today. However, despite its slow beginning, with several ups and downs, it is thanks to brilliant minds and fearless pioneers that never gave up their dream and hope, that we have so many air hockey table options to choose from presently.