Stern Pinball traces its lineage to the early 1930’s and the founding of modern pinball. Sam Stern, the father of SPI’s Founder, Chairman and CEO, Gary Stern, was part-owner and President of pinball pioneer, Williams Electronics. Williams and other innovative companies including Bally and Gottlieb formed the foundation on which the pinball industry was built.
In 1947, Sam Stern (left) visited pinball pioneer, Harry Williams (right), in Chicago where, according to pinball industry folklore, Sam brazenly put his feet up on Harry's desk and asked, “Why don’t you sell me your company?” Because of Sam’s success as an operator and distributor, it took Harry only three hours to decide to sell half of the company to Sam. Harry, an avid aviator, made his decision while flying his plane over Chicago.
During the 1950’s, Williams and other pioneering Chicago companies including Bally, Genco and D. Gottlieb & Co., introduced many new innovations to pinball including multi-player games, score reels and increasingly sophisticated playfield mechanisms and art packages.
Sam Stern served as President of Williams and passed his passion for pinball along to his son, Gary. As a child, Gary played in empty pinball boxes on the factory floor at Williams. At age 16, during the rebellious 1960's, Gary officially entered the pinball business when he started working for his father in the stock room at Williams.
The introduction of solid-state technology in the 1970’s led to circuit boards and digital displays. The new technology helped create new features to improve player appeal. In 1976, New York City lifted its decades-long ban on pinball after the industry proved it was a game of skill, not chance.
As the coin-op market evolved, other companies acquired many of the existing pinball companies. In 1986, after the death of his father, Gary founded Data East Pinball, which was then purchased by Sega and became Sega Pinball. Gary eventually bought the business back from Sega and renamed it Stern Pinball, Inc.
During the 1990's, pinball's popularity continued to grow and the industry experienced some of its best years. Stern Pinball and other Chicago-based producers, including Williams, Bally, Midway and Gottlieb, churned out some of pinball's most iconic titles.
In the fall of 2009, Stern Pinball partnered with an affiliate of Hagerty Peterson & Co., LLC (‘HP”), a private equity investment firm, to help the company weather the Great Recession and prepare for its next phase of growth. A team led by Dave Peterson, Managing Director of HP, helped the company strengthen its operations and financial condition, expand its product offering and enter new markets.
Today, Stern Pinball proudly continues to carry the pinball banner and promote the world’s friendliest game around the globe. Home to Hall-of-Fame game designers and programmers, Stern Pinball continues to lead the industry in innovation and design. Stern Pinball's games are enjoyed by an ever-expanding group of gamers around the globe who are re-discovering and discovering the tantalizing allure of the wild silver ball.