The History of Air Hockey

In 1969 a couple of employees at Brunswick Billiards had an intriguing idea – what if they could invent a game that used a completely frictionless table? A couple of years of research later and a change of development team and in 1972 Air Hockey was born, be it in a much more primitive form that the version that we’re used to seeing today.

The game, featuring a thin disk, two mallets and slit-like goals, was an instant success and grabbed the imagination of the public. It was originally marketed as a toy and a leisure item, placed in bars and arcades.

The air hockey table and tools have become much more refined over the years. The machinery that produces the cushion of air that allows the puck to float is more sophisticated. Other styles forego this air cushion and utilize a slick surface alone. This saves on both the purchase and upkeep costs. Either way, the main aim of an air hockey table is to reduce as much friction as is possible.

Differences also exist in the mallet that is used to push the puck around the table. Most commonly used are “high-tops,” mallets made from molded plastic that resemble small sombreros. Other mallets have a smaller knob, “flat tops.” Mallets can also be called paddles, strikers or goalies.

Air Hockey pucks can be found as triangles, squares, hexagons and octagons, but the most commonly used version is a circle. Pucks are made of a toughened polycarbonate resin to ensure their smoothness. This is important to ensure that there is as little friction as possible between the table surface and the puck. In fact, there also exists a battery-operated puck that generates it’s own air cushion. Whilst this sounds like a great idea, one well-placed shot will break the puck’s small internal fan. For this reason, these have only ever been marketed as toys or novelties.

During the 1980s the game lost favour to the growth of large arcades and coin-operated electronic games. With the onset of computer technology, air hockey began to look old-fashioned and dated. For a while no new tables were produced and those that still existed became neglected.

However, one air hockey fan, Mark Robbins, became determined to bring back the game he so loved. He collected old tables and managed to persuade US Billiards, the only manufacturer at that point, to create new and better quality tables using original designs. Between 1985 and 1993, Robbins worked tirelessly in his attempt to revive the sport. He succeeded and the game now remains as popular as it once was forty years ago.