Steve Kordek, widely regarded as the man who transformed the pinball machine from a simple arcade game into a great American pastime, died on Feb. 19. He was 100.
About 80 years ago, a young man who would become a coin-op legend wandered into a penny arcade machine company called Genco Manufacturing "just to get out of the rain," as he tells it. He stayed to revolutionize the pinball industry, and many of his designs, still used today, would elevate the game into a sophisticated entertainment form.
In 1947, Kordek's Triple Action (Genco) was the first pinball machine to incorporate only two flippers at the bottom of the playfield. These more powerful flippers were facilitated by the addition of a DC power supply. Also invented by Kordek were the first drop targets, unveiled with Vagabond (Williams-1962), and multi-ball play, featured on Beat the Clock (Williams-1963).
The player-controlled flippers at the bottom of the playfield, drop targets and multi-ball mode have been standard pinball game features ever since. These innovations were a few of many by Kordek.
On Dec. 26, 2011, Steve Kordek turned 100 years old. Admirers of the pinball superstar celebrated his remarkable life at a party in Niles, IL, on Jan. 20. During his six decades in the coin machine industry, he designed more than 100 pinball games for Genco, Williams and Bally.
David Silverman of the National Pinball Museum spoke to NPR's Mary Louise Kelly about Kordek's legacy. "Steve Kordek's big breakthrough was the design of a game with two flippers instead of a lot of flippers, and in the position they are in today," Silverman told NPR.
In pinball circles, Kordek became a legend, and well into his nineties he would get mobbed at pinball events. "Every year he would go to Pinball Expo in Chicago, no matter what, and everybody would want to hear him talk and listen to his history -- because it was the history of pinball," Silverman said.
Steve Kordek, along with such designers as Gottlieb's Wayne Neyens, were the men who made the pinball manufacturers of yesteryear great, Silverman told NPR, because they kept producing the games that the public continued to want to play