A Brief History of Bingo – Know the Origin of the Popular Game

The Origin and Early History of Bingo

Did you know that bingo actually originated in 1530?  Our modern version of bingo stems from Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia.  In 1530, when Italy united, Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, the Italian National Lottery was formed and has been running weekly drawings ever since.  In modern Italy, the Italian State Lottery is a crucial component of the nation’s budget, generating over $75 million.

The French press reported that in 1778 Le Lotto had become popular with intelligent members of society.  In this classic Lotto version, a playing card that featured nine vertical rows and three horizontal rows was used.  The horizontal rows each had four blank squares and five squares with random numbers. 

The first vertical row contained the numbers 1 to 10; the second had the numbers 11 to 20, and so on up to 90.  The Lotto cards were designed so that no two cards were identical.  Each player was dealt a card and a caller would pull numbered, wooden tokens from a bag and announce the number that was pulled.  If the number appeared on the player’s card, they would cover it.  The first person to complete a horizontal row won the game.

A Brief History of Bingo

By the 1800’s Lotto games had become popular with educators.  In the 1850s, a German Lotto game was being used to teach multiplication tables to children.  Along with mathematics, there were Lotto games for history, spelling, and animal recognition.  Even today, Lotto games are doing well in a very competitive game and toy market.  Milton Bradley offers a Lotto game that features characters from Sesame Street that is designed to teach 3 to 6-year-olds number recognition and how to count.

The Emergence of Beano

The Bingo that we all know today was introduced to our society by a New York toy salesman, Edwin Lowe.  One evening in 1929, Lowe was near Jacksonville, Georgia, where he had scheduled appointments for the next day.  As he passed a country carnival, he decided to stop and check it out since he was ahead of schedule.

All of the booths were closed by the time Lowe had gotten there, except for one very crowded booth.  As he tried to see what the attraction was by standing on his tiptoes, Lowe saw what would be the beginning of his contribution to the world of Bingo.

All of the players were gathered around a table covered with beans and numbered cards.  The game was called Beano, a variation of Lotto.  A wooden, numbered disk was pulled from a bag by the pitchman, the caller.  As he announced the number, the excited crowd would eagerly check their cards to see if they had the called number.  If they did, they would place a bean on the square that contained the number.  Once a player made a diagonal, horizontal, or vertical line, they would shout “Beano!”

Bingo numbers

Lowe tried to play the game himself but was unable to get a seat.  Its popularity intrigued him so much that he stuck around to find out more about it.  While waiting, Edwin noticed that the players almost seemed addicted to this simple game.  They were so eager to play; the pitchman wasn’t able to close up his booth until about 3 a.m.

Once the crowd was gone, Lowe was finally able to get some more information about this unusual game.  The pitchman had told him that he picked up on the game while traveling with a carnival in Germany.  When he returned to the U.S., the pitchman decided to make a few minor modifications, call the game Beano, and created a very popular and lucrative carnival game.

Bingo Is Born!

After returning to New York, Lowe decided to see how the game would work by purchasing some numbering stamps, cardboard, and some dried beans.  He then invited friends over to his apartment.  Lowe assumed the role of pitchman and dealt each of his friends a card.  It wasn’t long before Lowe saw the same eagerness and excitement in his friends that he saw in the players back in Jacksonville.  Lowe also noticed then when one of the players was close to winning, that when she did win, she was so excited that she became tongue-tied and shouted “Bingo!” instead of “Beano!”.  That exciting moment brought about the creation of our beloved Bingo.

Edwin Lowe originally released two variations of Bingo, a $1 set that included 12 cards and a $2 set that included 24 cards.  Almost immediately the game was a hit and put Lowe’s struggling company back on track.

Bingo in Church: A Mathematical Dilemma

Not long after Bingo became available on the market, a priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania approached Lowe with a problem the Father was having.  One of his parishioners had the idea of using Bingo as a fundraising event to help the church with its financial issues.  After acquiring several sets of the $2 Bingo game, the priest put their plan into action. 

However, it wasn’t long before problems began.  Out of each game held for fundraising, there would be a dozen or more winners.  Lowe could easily see the tremendous possibilities Bingo could offer fundraising events.  However, he could also see that the number combinations in his $1 and $2 sets were not going to work.  In order to be effective in such activities, he was going to need a larger combination of numbers.

Lowe contacted Carl Leffler at Columbia University and explained his situation to the mathematician.  He then asked the professor to create 6,000 Bingo cards and to ensure that there were no repeating number combinations. 

History of Bingo in American Church

Agreeing to a per-card fee, the professor began his work.  However, after a while, coming up with new, non-repeating number combinations was becoming a challenge.  Lowe had grown impatient and by the time the project was finished, the price per card had grown to $100.  With the task finally completed, the E.S. Lowe Company finally had 6,000 non-repeating cards.

The Wilkes-Barre church was saved and soon after the word spread.  Lowe was receiving thousands of letters asking for help with Bingo games.  This led to the first-ever Bingo instruction manual and “The Blotter”, a monthly newsletter dedicated to Bingo and distributed to nearly 40,000 subscribers.

By 1934, an estimated 10,000 Bingo games were being played every week.  Lowe’s company had thousands of employees occupying nine floors of their office building along with 64 presses operating 24 hours per day.  Bingo was off with a blast and established itself with apple pie and baseball as one of America’s favorites.

History of Bingo in America

Bingo made its way from Europe to North America in the early 1900s. Although the popular game with Italian origins had traveled across the pond, it adopted a new name in its new home. The first time bingo or beano was mentioned in America was in the late 1920s, thanks to the rise of the carnival scene in Atlanta, Georgia.

More specifically, Hugh J. Ward devised and standardized the new game of bingo at carnivals in and around the western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh region in the early part of the 1920s. In 1933, the carnival operator applied for copyright and later published a book detailing the rules for the new game.

This was a key moment in the early American history of bingo. Bingo had previously gone under other names. It’s actually rather amusing why “beano” became “bingo.” A beano player accidentally heard Edwin Lowe, a toy salesman, yell “Bingo!” He believed that bingo would be more effective for marketing purposes and had a nicer ring to it.

History of Bingo in the United Kingdom

In order to test the game before it was mass-produced, Lowe had friends over to his flat. During one of the testing sessions, one overly enthusiastic player accidentally used the word “Bingo,” which essentially became the moniker we now all play under and shout in excitement when we win!

Edwin Lowe further popularized the game. The toy merchandiser observed people avidly playing the game “Beano” according to Ward’s rules using dry beans, a rubber stamp, and cardboard sheets when they were visiting a touring carnival close to Atlanta in December 1929. Friends who Lowe brought the game to in New York enjoyed playing it. There were two variations of the Lowe-produced bingo game: a 12-card set costing $1 and a 24-card set costing $2.

There were bingo games throughout the United States by the 1940s. In order to make the bingo card successful commercially, Lowe also concluded that the number of squares needed to be increased. In his hunt for a collaborator, he came across Carl Leffler, a math professor. Leffler, a professor at Columbia University, decided to support Lowe’s endeavor. Leffler laboriously considered the mathematical possibilities and produced a total of 6000 unique bingo cards. According to rumors, Leffler lost all sense of reality after completing this feat.

A Catholic priest contacted Lowe asking if he could use the game in churches to earn money not long after the game was prepared for mass production. In due course, more and more churches began to participate in Lowe’s free game. Since so many people were playing bingo at church, it rapidly gained acceptance in the general public as well.

History of Bingo in the United Kingdom – Where Bingo Lingo was Born

Much of bingo’s history may have been documented in America, but the card game hit the UK gaming scene earlier in the 1800s, right about the same time it was introduced in Germany.

Some evidence suggests that the British were also creating their version of bingo at the same time that the game was evolving in America and other parts of Europe. Games of chance were viewed as a viable means of escaping poverty during the Elizabethan era, leading to the establishment of a national lottery.

Their popularity swiftly increased, and several illicit lotteries began to appear alongside the regular ones.

Given that bingo in its early forms had been made unlawful, the authorities were eager to close these. Despite the restriction, it quickly became one of the most played games in the nation and continues to be so today. The British did not significantly alter the game, but they did establish the Bingo Lexicon and vocabulary.

The well-known bingo calls are referred to as Bingo Lingo all thanks to British bingo fans. They have a rich history and mostly derive from slang and rhyme from Cockney. When you’ve heard bingo callers in a live hall, you’ve probably picked up some of the East End of London’s Cockney rhyme and slang.

Bingo Goes Big Online

Reports from WWI document soldiers engaging in a very similar game in the trenches, then known as “Housey Housey.” The British soldiers were hesitant to abandon the game that had kept them entertained through so many dark days of the war when they came back from war.

It’s not surprising that bingo was popular in post-war Britain with both men and women, getting the point home. Illegal games spread across the nation over the ensuing 20 years. Because of a guy by the name of Louis Hart, the South-East London neighborhood of Peckham became a hub of Housey Housey action. Hart’s operation of multiple unlawful Housey Housey games in 1937 was known to the authorities.

Each one would have between 30 and 60 participants, but it was very different from the frantic bingo of today. Players would sit down with their cards in front of them, but drawing numbers was a very time-consuming operation. To break up the monotony, humorous bingo calls were developed.

The Online Bingo Revolution – The Birth Online Game of Bingo

Sectors like gaming and gambling have enthusiastically embraced the internet revolution, and the world of bingo is no different. With only a touch of their keyboard or a swipe of their touchscreen, players may now access a huge selection of games online.

It is easy to see why and how technology managed to revive once-popular casino games that were on the verge of extinction.  One such game is bingo. Bingo is a lucrative business with an estimated value of £1.3 billion in the UK alone. And a noticeable impact is being made by online bingo across the internet gaming community.

It’s thought that Cyberbingo.com, founded back in 1996, was the first website to offer bingo online. Virtual bingo didn’t truly gain popularity until several specialized sites were developed in 2003. The rise of online bingo was almost synonymous with the massive online poker craze.

Another important turning point was the formal debut of the 15 Network, a platform for online bingo players, in 2013, which allowed the game to enter the lucrative mobile gaming industry. Since then, it hasn’t turned back, and yearly income growth has been rising steadily. But it’s not just because of internet advances; bingo halls are now attracting younger crowds and even college students with creative takes on music, nightclubs, dancing techniques, and inexpensive food and drink.

Today, there are many forms of game you can find at an online bingo site and other internet platforms. They include table bingo, horse-racing bingo, Bonanza bingo, shotgun bingo, and Facebook bingo.

Bingo History Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What was bingo originally called?

Bingo started its journey in 1530 in Italy as a lottery game called Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia, which translates to “The Clearance of The Lot of Italy.” It was the national lottery in Italy at the time. In the United States, bingo was originally called beano.

Who invented bingo?

The modern card game of bingo was invented and standardized in the US by Hugh J. Ward in the early 1920s. He popularized the new games among carnivals in and around the Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh area. He sought the copyright for the bingo game in 1933 before being popularized by Edwin Lowe.

How did bingo become a common game?

Bingo became a household game in the carnival circuits because of the popularization by both Hugh J. Ward and Edwin Lowe in the 1920s in the United States.

Why is it called bingo?

According to legend, in 1929, Edwin S. Lowe, a toy salesman from New York, was traveling on business from New York to Jacksonville, Georgia. Before his appointment the next day, Edwin decided to take a little stroll through a passing carnival that had stopped in the area.  He discovered a “Beano” booth there, where players hid numbers on cards in front of them using dried beans, and a caller pulled out numbered balls from a cigar box.

The participants would yell “Beano” if they had successfully covered a straight line with the beans.

To question the stall owner, Lowe waited till the carnival was over. He admitted that he got the idea for the game while traveling over Europe and taking part in a German lottery game. Quickly returning to New York with the game, Lowe made his own deck of Beano cards to play with pals. When one of them screamed “Bingo” instead of “Beano,” the game was created. He was happy to see that they were immediately hooked.

Before marketing it under the name “Bingo,” Lowe is reported to have printed cards, increased the number of potential combinations, and packaged it as a game. During World Wars I and II, bingo reached the height of its popularity among US service members as well as the British army and naval personnel. Lowe went on to create another popular game called Yahtzee.

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