The history of bingo begins with the unification of Italy in 1530. The unification also marked the beginning of bingo’s first ancestor the Italian lottery, Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia. This original version is still played today. From Italy the word spread to France around 1778.
The lottery took the form of cards divided into three horizontal rows and nine vertical columns. Each row contained a random arrangement of five numbers and four blank squares. The vertical columns each contained a possible ten numbers, the first could contain any number between 1 and 10, the second 11-20 and so on. The numbers 1-90 where printed on wooden chips that were placed in a bag. The chips were drawn out of the bag one at a time until a player completely covered a horizontal row, winning the lottery. The game gained popularity throughout Europe in the 1800s.
Bingo crossed the ocean to America by way of a carnival pitchman who was touring Germany. The German variation of the bingo lottery was mainly used as a child’s game to help students learn math, spelling and history. While there the pitchman realized the potential of the lottery game as a carnival game. He altered the game to allow players to win vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
The players covered their squares with beans and so the game was named Beano. In 1929, a traveling toy salesman, Edwin S. Lowe, stopped by a carnival in Atlanta, Georgian. The Beano tent was so crowded with people that Lowe couldn’t get in to play the game himself. He witnessed the anticipation and tension in the crowd collimating when a player yelled out “Beano!”
Lowe recognized the marketing potential of the game and created his own version when he returned to his home in New York. He invited some friends over to play and saw the same excitement he had seen at the carnival in Georgia. When a tongue-tied player completed a row on her card she stammered “B-b-bingo!” instead of “Beano!” The name struck a chord with Lowe. He produced the game under the name Bingo, which became wildly popular, fueling countless imitations.
A priest from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania was the first to realize the fundraising potential of the game. At the time the game only came with 24 unique cards. The priest contacted Lowe about producing a large number of unique combinations to increase the number of potential players. Lowe enlisted the help of Carl Leffler, a professor of mathematics, to produce new combinations. Leffler’s job was to produce 6,000 new unique bingo cards. It is said that he went insane by the time the task was finally completed.
By 1934 it was estimated that 10,000 bingo games were being played weekly. Today more than 90 million dollars are spent each week playing bingo in North America alone. The popularity of the game has been boosted even further by the advent of online bingo games.