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The History of Bingo
Image credit: Julia Bujalski

Early Forms

The earliest forms of Bingo date all the way back to 1530 in Italy. At the time, a game called Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia, or the Italian Lottery, was extremely popular. Lotto boards were rectangular and had 27 squares each – nine squares across and three squares down. Players were given cards with numbered squares and the winning numbers were drawn out of a sack.

The game quickly moved through Europe and gained widespread popularity. In the 1770s, a young Frenchman created an alternate French version of the Italian Lotto, called Le Lotto. The French game featured cards with three rows and nine columns. Each had a random number from 1 – 90 written on it. Numbers were once again drawn from a sack and the winner would be the first person to get all the numbers in a horizontal row.

Eventually, the game was brought to North America. The North American precursor to Bingo was called Beano. In the early 1900s, Beano gained popularity at carnivals throughout America. The game gets its name from the way that players used beans to cover their squares. Also, the winner would shout “Beano!” The game is thought to have been introduced in North America by Hugh J. Ward, who wrote a rulebook for his version of Beano in 1933.

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Invention in America

In 1929, a Brooklyn toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe observed a game of Beano being played and decided to develop his own version of the game. Lowe’s game featured cards with five rows and five columns of numbers. After branding his new game as Bingo, he began selling it in 24-card sets. However, he later worked with a Columbia University mathematician to create over 6,000 unique Bingo cards!

The Name of the Game

Where did the iconic name come from? Legend has it that while Lowe was developing the game, he invited a group of friends to test the new gameplay. Due to its similarity to Beano, one player became confused and shouted, “Bingo!” upon winning – and the name stuck. However, since the term “Bingo” was already being used for a similar game in the United Kingdom, it’s also possible that Lowe simply borrowed the British game’s name for his own American version.

An Explosion in Popularity

Soon after it debuted, a Catholic priest in Pennsylvania who enjoyed playing Bingo asked if he could use Lowe’s game for a fundraiser. The trend quickly caught on, and Bingo gained massive popularity as churches and other organizations began to use the game as a fundraiser. By 1934, over 10,000 Bingo games were being played each week! Today, Americans still love Bingo, and many organizations continue to use the game as a fundraiser. In fact, $90 million is spent on Bingo games in North America each week!

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