Air hockey is a classic arcade game with worldwide appeal. It’s a 2-player game played with two strikers and a puck over a table that is commonly made from a plastic/wood combination.
Of course, while it may seem that a game like air hockey must’ve been around since forever, you’ll be surprised to know that the idea is just about 50 years old.
It all began when three Brunswick Billiards employees along with an engineer had faith in a new idea and worked on it between 1969 and 1972.
This page might include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. Read more here.
The Brains Behind the Game
Three engineers from Brunswick – Phil Crossman, Bob Kenrick and Brad Baldwin – had the idea of creating a game similar to ice hockey, over a frictionless surface.
The game would occupy limited space and allow a puck to float on it, just as an ice hockey puck glides smoothly on an ice rink. However, they were facing one challenge – to make it completely frictionless, they needed an air cushion between the puck and playing surface. It was what caused them to nearly give up.
The Creation of a Legacy
To make their idea work, Crossman, Kenrick, and Baldwin contacted an engineer, Bob Lemineux. He agreed to work for them and turned that idea into reality in 1972.
The first air hockey model had two goal posts, two strikers and a puck, and was launched by the same company which the idea originated from.
A Successful Launch
Brunswick Billiards was already a well-established gaming table company, being a major pool table manufacturer at the time it released the first ever air hockey table. This helped in making the game a hit as soon as it was released into the market.
However, it still didn’t become as dedicated a sport as pool, being kept mostly as a recreational game at pizza places and bars for a few years.
Competitive Play and Air Hockey Leagues
Near the mid-1970’s, soon after its invention, things started looking up for air hockey. It began to be taken more seriously as a competitive sport, with fans participating in tournament play.
This was all thanks to the first air hockey tournament organized by fans who wished to keep the game alive.
The first tournament, named ‘The Best Air Hockey Player in the World,’ had a prize of $5000. It attracted 31 regional champions, and resulted in some exciting matches between participants.
The Houston Air Hockey Association was formed in 1973, followed by the Texas Air Hockey Association. Soon after, in 1975, the USAA (United States Air Hockey Association) was formed by J. Phillip, to make the rules of the sport more official.
It has since been hosting national and international-level championships each year.
It is still believed that many Air Hockey players originate and retire in Texas since air hockey likely got its start at the University of Houston. It became a mainstream sport after the National championship of 1978 held by USAA.
A Dip in Interest – The Threat of the Video Game Craze of the ‘80s
Soon after its peak in the mid-70’s, the air hockey hype started to die down as most gamers had their attention diverted by video games. It was the era of classic addictive games like PacMan that took the gaming industry by storm.
The video game rage was so much that fans wondered if air hockey was already a dead sport.
Another Peak for Air Hockey – The Efforts of Mark Robbins
To save it from becoming defunct, a fan of air hockey, Mark Robbins, posted an ad in a trade newsletter in which he requested people to donate used air hockey tables which they didn’t need any more.
He further rented a huge truck to pick a multiple tables and stored them inside a barn. His main aim was to make the ultimate air hockey table.
Mark reached out to US Billiards, the only company which was producing Air Hockey tables at that time. He requested them to relaunch the game, this time keeping the original Brunswick design while building upon it with Formica-topped tables.
In 1985, Mark persuaded another company named Dynamo Corporation to manufacture competitive air hockey tables based on the original design. However, business was slow initially, with the first year only bringing in a 100 sales.
Mark’s hard work finally paid off in 1993 since by that year, Dynamo had started to sell thousands of air hockey tables. His efforts had at last borne fruit.
Modern Air Hockey Gaming
As of 2015, the Air Hockey Players Association was formed to further organize the sport, keeping it alive and active. Non-player friendly rules were abrogated and a proper standard of rules was introduced for this new sport.
Air hockey is taken seriously in modern times with many professional players of the game. Moreover, this arcade game is popularly sold in the market, being available in a wide range of sizes and forms.
While the basic design remains the same, you can find anything from small, tabletop versions of air hockey to large, tournament-sized 8-ft tables. A host of air hockey manufacturers are constantly at work to create the best tables at competitive prices.
From coin-operated tables for gaming zones to plush, impressive tables for homes, the air hockey table industry is booming as ever.
While air hockey has a plethora of manufacturers worldwide at the present, the credit for its creation will always go to Phil Crossman, Bob Kenrick, Brad Baldwin, and Bob Lemineux.
Mark Robbins also deserves due credit for revival of the game when it was at its lowest. Thanks to the efforts of these gaming enthusiasts, air hockey now has fans across the globe who are passionate about this simple yet exciting arcade sport.
With the wide range of air hockey tables available out there, anyone from kids to adults can enjoy the game on a table sized appropriately for them.