In Italy during the 1530s a lottery was invented that is still played in Italy every Saturday. This is where the game of Bingo originated. The game travelled to France in the 1770s and was initially played amongst wealthy Frenchmen. The game then travelled deeper into Europe reaching Germany, where they chose to use it as a tool to help their children learn history, spelling and math.
Finally, the game reached Atlanta, Georgia in 1929 where it became known as ‘beano’. It was played at fairs and carnivals around the country. Each player had some dried beans and a card containing numbered squares – this was divided into three rows and nine columns. There was a caller who drew random discs numbered from 1 to 90 from a cigar box or a bag. The designated number drawn out was then shouted to waiting players. The players used their beans to cover up the matching number on the card. The winner would be the first person to cover up an entire row of numbers. When this happened the player yelled ‘beano’ to alert everyone that they had won.
A New York toy salesman, Edwin S. Lowe, was visiting a country fair one day when he witnessed a woman shout ‘Bingo!’ In her eagerness to tell everyone that she had covered all her numbers, she became tongue-tied and shouted ‘Bingo’ instead of ‘beano’. This error ultimately inspired Lowe and he rushed back to New York to develop and market a new game – Bingo!
Lowe’s first commercial version of the game retailed at $1 for a 12 card set and $2 for 24 cards. A priest from Pennsylvania realized that he could raise some much needed funds for his church by running Bingo games, but he soon discovered a problem. There were often too many winners! When he brought this to Lowe’s attention Lowe hired a math professor, Carl Leffer, to help him increase the amount of Bingo combinations. By 1930 they had invented over 6,000 Bingo cards – reputedly at the cost of Leffer’s sanity.
Word soon spread that Bingo was an easy and enjoyable way to raise money. By 1934 it was estimated that over 10,000 games a week were being played. Having been unable to patent his invention, Lowe generously allowed his competitors to pay him a dollar a year and for that he happily let them call their games ‘Bingo’ too.