Bingo’s history is not easy to follow in detail. It is full of vague rumors and is inconsistent. Then there is the question of when “Bingo” actually started. It didn’t just start one day. Games have always been a leisure activity since thousands of years. All these “games of chance” have developed over time. This is perhaps especially true when they come to Bingo compared to other games where money has been involved. The bingo game originates from lottery games that spread throughout Europe in the 15th century. These games were based purely on chance. They have since changed over the centuries to become the game we recognize today. But it was a very gradual process.
When was the first recognizable game?
The English archaeologist John Stephens traveled to Mexico in about 1838. He described the game “La Lotteria” in detail. An announcer drew numbered balls from a bag which were called out in turn. Players used a large sheet of paper with numbers 1-90 lined up in rows of five. As a number of numbers were called, they used corn kernels to mark all the numbers that were called. Whoever was the first to cover an entire row won the bag that contained the prize, usually money.
This is the oldest documented event approaching online Bingo as we know it. It is believed that the British Navy started playing the game around this time. There was a large garrison stationed in Malta from 1814. And that’s probably where they learned the game from.
There were definitely forces at play in the late 19th century. The army then called it “Housey-Housey” and the navy “Tombola”. But there is no record of how any of these names came about. The game continued to be very popular among pieces up until – and during – World War II.
When did it get called “Bingo”?
This is also very difficult to answer. The accepted story is that the name “Bingo” was coined by an American toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe. He definitely used the expression when selling his commercially produced bingo tiles. But why did he use this phrase? He is said to be watching a game during a country fair in Georgia in 1929. This was basically the same game described earlier. But beans were used to mark numbers instead of corn kernels. Due to the excitement of winning, a lady made a mistake and shouted “Bingo!” Instead of “Beano!” Lowe liked the name and used it for his product. But there are also stories about the game being called “Bingo” in Britain from 1928. But these are only based on memories and stories, there is no documentation and memories can easily be wrong. But there are official reports of the name being used in the mid-thirties in Great Britain. This is a very short time for the concept to have crossed the Atlantic and then started to be used in the country. Unlikely – but not impossible.
When was Bingo introduced?
Again – it’s very hard to say. Around the late 1930s, there was a new process for choosing random numbers. There had previously been incidents of bingo announcers rigging the game and calling out incorrect numbers. So the game changed so that each player took turns throwing a ball into the container which had 90 numbered compartments. Then the game was changed so that the players could see which number came up. But this process took time. In fact, we know for sure – because it was documented – that the army played Housey – Housey in the 1930s and used the exact same bingo call that we still recognize. Which of course explains why so many exclamations have a military origin. But why? And how did they start? We still don’t know that.
Bingo in the Future
Bingo went and became less popular in recent times. But because of online Bingo, the game has started to come back. Rather than creating problems for the traditional bingo halls, it has increased awareness. We can now play electronic bingo in bingo halls and mobile bingo on our phones. Let’s hope it bears this way!