Amusement Park Games a/k/a the “Penny Arcade”

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I’ve previously written about amusement parks, focusing on the rides. The rides were only part of the fun times baby boomers and their families had at the park. In addition to the amazing food (almost exclusively junk, but the best tasting junk on earth) some parks also had swimming pools to enjoy. My parents liked playing bingo, but it was a little slow for me. I liked spending time in the penny arcade even though nothing ever cost a penny.

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There’s not a lot of research published about the penny arcade games that provided anything more than we already knew. I did however discover that Americans consume seven billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions provided that information.

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Amusement park games were “pay per play ” games of chance (not skill?). They cost between from a nickel to a quarter to play depending on the game. Most offered a small prize or tickets that could be accumulated to win larger prizes. The first popular arcade games were shooting galleries, ball toss games, and early coin-operated machines, like fortune-tellers and mechanical music players.

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As I reported in my earlier blog, the parks were in decline at the end of the 1940s due to the cumulative effects of the Great Depression and World War II. When we baby boomers exploded on the scene, the remaining amusement parks rode the boomer wave, and the arcade games kept pace.

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There were two terrific amusement parks near where I grew up in central Pennsylvania, and sadly, only one is still operating. About four years ago, I stumbled into an antique store in Duncannon, PA that occupied a two block long factory where Lightening Glider sleds were produced starting in 1904. Sled production ended in 1988 and the factory officially closed in late 1990. In April 1991, the buildings reopened as the Old Sled Works with 125 antique and craft vendors, a sled museum and a working penny arcade with many of the same games that I played at Knoebel’s Grove or Rolling Green.

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My “helpers,” Judi and Judy, visited that arcade to escape from the February snow, and took the photos I’m sharing in this blog. Please enjoy Judy’s photographic artistry with the games we played.

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6 thoughts on “Amusement Park Games a/k/a the “Penny Arcade”

  1. I hope you give us another assignment like this. It was a wonderful step back in time and a fascinating afternoon. And I shared it with my friend with whom I lived through those years, as well as all the years up to the present. Amazing. Thank you.

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  2. Loved Rolling Green.. I always got a charge from the laughing fat lady in the glass enclosure. I spent. Lots Of time there having some good chuckles. Remember that? And at the time,, I thought the roller coaster there was really scary. Didn’t know what was in store for us in years to come.

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  3. I so enjoyed taking the pictures and thinking “what is it about boys, in particular, that the very walking toward, passing by, or anticipation of an arcade game sends a signal to the brain crying out “win,win, win. You can win this!!!” “You must try!” “you must not pass by!” My brothers had the “curse of the arcade game.” My grandsons have the curse. My husband and I would scout out any amusement parks, carnivals and county fairs before letting our children and grandchildren out of the car.. We would promise they could keep the money that would have been spent–and lost. We would detour away from the dreaded area of the arcades. They knew. They just knew! —-and running ahead of us, they would shout in hopeful triumph, ” I WILL WIN!!!”

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