The Interesting History of Bingo

Posted By: Date: 05/03/2012 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

Take a step back in time to the roaring 1920’s in America, when the stock market crashed, steadfast businesses struggled and entrepreneurs needed a big idea to stand any chance of success. Edwin S. Lowe fit into both of these categories; a recently established toy manufacturer from New York looking for a fresh concept to bring his business to life.

The year was 1929 when Lowe took a long trip down to Georgia. He had appointments to attend to the following day, but having arrived ahead of schedule, he decided to take a slight detour just outside of Atlanta as something brilliant caught his eye. He had come upon a traveling carnival with luminous tents of all sizes spotting the field. One tent, the biggest of all, caught his attention immediately.

There was a raucous crowd within the tent, making enough jubilant commotion to draw Lowe’s attention from afar. When he stepped inside, he could hardly grasp what he was seeing. Everyone within was playing a game, and they were having a marvelous time doing so.

The game was called Beano. Each player had a card with a 5×5 grid and a number within each square. The man running the game would call out numbers, and players would cover that number on their card (if it appeared) with a dry bean; hence the name Beano. When a player filled a full line of 5, across, down or diagonal, he would shout “Beano!”

Prizes were awarded, and a new game would begin. Lowe was astounded by how enthralled these people were with the game. He paid careful attention long enough to come up with a plan. The moment Edwin returned to New York, he began devising his own Beano cards. He then invited a few friends over for an experimental test run.

His friends enjoyed the game just as much as the crowd he had witnessed back in Georgia. They were having such a good time, in fact, that one of them, in overjoyed excitement at a winning card, jumped up and shouted “Bingo!” by accident.

At that moment, the game of Bingo was born. Edwin began manufacturing it under the name 33Lowe’s Bingo and sales were off the charts. It wasn’t long before he was approached by Father Hagus, a priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Apparently the church had fallen on hard times and needed a way to raise money, so Father Hagus had purchased enough Lowe’s Bingo games that his entire parish could participate. It was an instant success – bingo remains the number one form of charitable fund raising in North America to this day – but there was a problem. There were only so many cards per box, all duplicates of those in the next box. Up to a dozen players were winning every game.

Edwin had to find a way of fabricating enough randomly numbered bingo cards to solve the problem. He contacted a mathematician, Professor Carl Leffler from Columbia University, and asked him to produce 6,000 distinctive bingo cards with non-repeating number patterns. This would allow him to randomize the bingo cards in each box of Lowe’s Bingo sold, avoiding the risk of duplicates.

Leffler was happy to take on the task, but the mental strain became too much as the number of cards he developed wore on. Lowe was eager to have the task completed, so he kept offering Leffler more and more money for each card, so much so that the price per card was eventually as high as $100. Leffler finally completed the job, engineering 6,000 unique cards, and was likely a very rich man in the end, but it is alleged that immediately afterwards he went mentally insane.

Thus the game of bingo was born, and has remained one of the most popular games among young and old for nearly a century and counting.