In the late ‘50s or early ‘60s there was an explosion at Bally Manufacturing near California and Melrose. Do you have more details?
—Adam Baran, Lansing
There was in fact a mysterious explosion at the Bally Manufacturing factory in the Avondale neighborhood in 1969. The Chicago Tribune reported that people within a 2-mile radius of the plant heard and felt the blast shortly at 12:48 a.m. and called the police. No one was hurt, but significant damage was done to the factory, which famously made pinball machines.
The police found that the explosion was caused by a dynamite bomb set just outside the factory. Neither a motive nor culprit was ever reported in the papers, but it’s worth noting that organized crime has a history with pinball and also slot machines which Bally also made.
Bally was just one of a number of companies in Chicago that made pinball machines including Gottlieb and Williams Electronics, which later merged with Bally and still has offices in the neighborhood. The only Chicago-area company still making pinball machines is Stern Pinball in Elk Grove Village, which Chicago Tonight visited in 2016.
Bally originated as the Lion Manufacturing Corp in Chicago in 1931. Lion created a popular pinball machine called “Ballyhoo,” as well as slot machines, sewing machines and ballpoint pens.
During World War II, it aided the war effort by making detonator fuses and gun sights. After the war, Lion expanded its gaming business, making pool tables, amusement park rides, and other things like televisions and coffee dispensers.
In 1968, Lion changed its name to the Bally Manufacturing Corporation—a reference to that first pinball machine. The factory was located across the river from Riverview Park, and Bally named some of its games after park attractions like Aladdin’s Castle.
By the 1970s, Bally employed over 2,300 people in Chicago making video arcades and electronic games like “Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man.”
The company continued to grow, buying health clubs—remember Bally Total Fitness?—the Six Flags amusement park chain, and casinos in the 1980s. Bally was was acquired by Hilton Hotels in 1996 and the health club was spun off as an independent company. It went out of business in 2016.
The old factory was vacated by Bally in 1983 and later demolished; it’s now the site of a townhome development.
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