North American Bowling News

Toys and Their Importance to the Future of Bowling

Eldon's Vintage Bowl-a-Matic (Photo courtesy Kevin Preston)

The future of any game or sport is predicated on the fact that our wonderful and talented youths actually take an interest in, and follow through by continually playing said sport. Essentially, there are 2 ways that kids get interested in something--either they see their parents or older guardians participating, or the toys they play with hold their interest. As far as the parents go, by spending a lot of time with their children in a certain endeavor, the kids will undoubtedly follow in the parents' footsteps and/or influence, especially if they enjoy what they're doing. But when the parents don't spend an over-abundance of time with kids in a particular field of interest, what's left to influence a child? -Answer: The toys they play with, as the toys will always be there as constant companions and playmates for kids.

If bowling is to excel, or at least survive, without the help of adults, the toys need to act as stimulants for children. Here, we focus on a few standout toys that relate to bowling which may have influenced children over the years in the 'growing up' phase, and the lack of which has led kids into other endeavors.

In this article, the first of a 2-part feature, we'll take a look at some of the influential bowling toys (and one in particular in this issue) that graced our paths throughout the decades.


Perhaps the biggest trailblazer in the history of bowling toys. There were a lot of TV ads at the time that promoted the game of Skittle Bowl. The name, taken from the European variation of bowling called Skittles, was instrumental in Aurora's line of toys, leading to Skittle Pool, Skittle Poker, Skittle TicTacToe, Skittle Tennis, Skittle ScoreBall, and even Skittle Horseshoes. Skittle Bowl utilized the basic framework and architecture of bowling with the use of 10 pins on a platform. The game was economical in the use of space in that the ball was attached to a chain. The ball and chain were used, similar to a wrecking ball, to topple the pins. In a way, this was also somewhat like tetherball. The 'ball and chain' configuration on a platform made it so the use of an actual lane was not necessary. One of the great promotional tools for Aurora's 'Skittle' line of games was in employing one of TV's most recognizable celebrities to push their product(s)--actor Don Adams, of "Get Smart" fame.


The newest of the marvelous, electronic versions of bowling, in which there's user interaction with a TV screen. The game is very realistic with a great appeal to adults. With adult versions of games, come adult injuries. A somewhat amusing eavesdropping by this writer occurred in an 'office setting'. One of the customer service women came into work limping one morning. When asked what was the matter with her leg, she replied that she twisted her knee on the weekend playing WII bowling.


A game that was an arcade version of bowling, back when pinball machines were the rage. This game is actually a retro version/remake of a 1950s pinball game in which a bowler is at the end of a lane with a large silver ball. He takes aim and rolls the ball at bowling pins on the opposite end of the pinball machine. The pins have strings attached, much like Canadian Fivepin Bowling. This game will be featured in the second part of this article in the next edition of the North American Bowling News.


While more of a parlor type game, the game still has a lot of merit and ultimately is pretty realistic on a scoring level. The game has 10 white dice, which are loaded into a plastic 'shaker' bowling pin (like cribbage). Each di of 6 sides has 5 sides that are white, and the sixth side has a black silhouetted image of a bowling pin. When the dice are rolled, if any of the bowling pins are face up, then these dice are rolled again, to determine a spare.

Mentioned above are just a few of the many great offerings over the years, relating to bowling in the toy world. But there is one particular masterpiece of the 1960s that deserves special recognition before it's forgotten, due to the inevitable passing of time. --->


This truly magnificent marvel is arguably, dollar for dollar, the most sophisticated offering in the annals of toymaking. The Eldon Bowl-a-Matic, for those lucky enough to have had one of these games cross their paths, undoubtedly instilled an interest in bowling in any child (as it did in this writer) who had the opportunity to play the game. The game was extremely well made and absolutely realistic. This offering from Eldon measured approximately 4 feet in length, and to a kid, it really was like having a bowling alley in your own home.

On the surface, the game was a true simulation of bowling with 10 pins and a ball. A plastic 'man' was stationed at the bowler's end of the lane, and he was manueverable with the use of a rod at his end of the game. The other end of the lane featured a real pinsetter, with an impressive number of working gears. Here's where what's behind the surface of the game is so very astounding. The pinsetter was activated by another rod at the bowler's end of the game. By turning the crank, the pinsetter would actually pick up the standing pins, and the sweeper would clear the dead wood into a pit area, and at the same time, allow for the sending of the previously rolled ball down the ball return. A truly ingenious piece of work!

The little man was molded into a hunched position, but his bowling arm was movable, and the hand on his arm was in a cupped position, so the ball could be placed in his hand, and by operating a spring loaded plunger, the ball was propelled forward down the lane into the pins. If you had to characterize this little guy's style, he'd be known for 'getting the ball out'.

This would be pretty impressive if the game were electronic or battery operated, but what's additionally astonishing about this game is that there was nothing to plug in...the game was playable right out of the original box, all with the use of the plastic gears and parts. It must have been gratifying for toymakers to use their engineering skills to create such a product, providing hours of enjoyment to multitudes of children.

The game was manufactured in 1962 and was produced for probably about 5 or 6 years. Eldon did later come out with another smaller version under the same name, but it was a totally scaled down, tabletop model, without the working gears, and mostly a desk piece, compared to the original.

The original Bowl-a-matic lane casing was available in either brown or blue. The version shown in this article is brown, but an identical, alternate version used blue plastic that encased the lane and pinsetter instead of the brown shown here. The man and the pinsetter were red in both versions. The sparse information about this game on the web has comments from one web page author that the game can possibly be found from a few toy collectors, for maybe $400 or more. The author remarked that if a person could find the game, that it's worth every penny, which is a real understatement.

The Eldon Bowl-a-Matic was a real testamonial to the utter brilliance of the toymakers (and the general 'goings on') of the 1950s and 1960s. When you consider that such a masterful piece of work was manufactured as a toy and marketed so that the average parent(s) with moderate income could affordably pick up such a product for their kids is truly amazing. The game was indeed a work of art. A recent finding on Ebay for the scarce, complete and intact, game found it boasting a price tag of $2,500.00.

With toys like these, it's evident that a lot of ingenuity went into making them, and it's no wonder that kids grew up into adults with bowling instilled in their minds for entertainment. So many fantastic advances have indeed been made with electronics in today's world, which are pretty mind-boggling. And the ensuing electronic/video versions of bowling are pretty impressive. But in all due respect to video game manufacturers, there is still no replacement for a real hands-on experience for kids with toys, as there's no substitute for true '3-D' as opposed to '2-D' games. Perhaps if we had toys like these today, bowling in real bowling centers would be of greater appeal and enthusiasm for kids and teenagers.

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