Chicago Legacy: Exploring Bally Manufacturing

Chicago’s a weird and wild place, having been built and rebuilt innumerable times over the decades. As in all great cities, the new and the old collide into something unique which expresses it’s own history. The remnants of what was once the coin-op capital are sparse, but it’s a pleasure for me to walk to the corners of this crazy town on overcast days to see what we might be missing.

As with the last episode, this coincides with They Create Worlds covering the premiere Chicago coin-op company until the mid-1980s: Bally Manufacturing. This post won’t be looking at Midway’s facilities, that will be for another time, but just cover the big Bally.

310 W Erie St

1929-11 Automatic Age

Before Bally was Bally, they were originally a subsidiary of Lion Manufacturing. However, even before Ray Moloney decided to establish Bally in order to market pinball games, Lion already had a division they used to distribute coin-op machinery. Their offices took up six address spots on West Erie St, north of the central Loop of train routes in the city center.

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The street itself is on a trendy little route of businesses, near a Rainforest Cafe and several nearby cinemas. One would have no idea that manufacturing once ruled this whole boulevard, with several coin-op companies setting up shop here.

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As with the first building of Williams Electronics, the facility is now a residential living space with a vegetarian eatery down at the bottom. However, only one address appears to exist anymore.

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This parking lot is probably where the rest was, unless the building used different floors as individual addresses.

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This picture was taken of the manufacturing operation in 1932, showing how tight a fit it was.

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While I don’t know if the train line extended this way back in the 20s and 30s, the Brown Line of the CTA is a connective tissue between the offices of Bally’s original building and Williams’ main facility. Chicago was such a small world in those days.

4619 Ravenswood Ave

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When Bally created the first payout pinball machine in the game Rocket, they started expanding rapidly. The joining of the amusement and gambling industries was a real issue for the industry in the long term, but in the short term they financed enough as to move into a real manufacturing facility on December 1, 1933.

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Surprisingly enough, it seems like the basic structure of the building has remained through the years. Still three floors high with prominent adornments atop the roof, though it’s currently a mortgage firm. It seems a bit slight for turning out thousands of pinball machines in only about a year and a half, but industriousness is in Chicago’s blood.

2640 W Belmont Ave

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Alongside the Chicago River on the North end of the city, there’s relatively much open space to see where manufacturing could have lived. Even on a fairly major street, it’s quiet for Windy City standards.

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This walled housing district sits directly where Bally’s main manufacturing facility for over four decades once dominated the landscape. Here, Bally established it’s dominance in the coin-op world and suffered every turning point to come out on top, at least for a little while.

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This drawing of the facility, one can clearly see where the gated housing once protected a single multi-layered facility of typical gaudy Chicago character. They moved into this facility on April 1, 1935 and vacated it on May 31, 1983, no longer needing anything more than a corporate office to manage their manufacturing facilities.

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I’m always interested to find remnants of that lost age that may still remain nearby, and I can definitely say that this church saw the whole rise and fall of the company, as it’s been standing since 1892. Likely a frequent spot for at least some employees.

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Another old building directly across the street has this well-worn looking sign that could have felt the smog of Bally, though one can’t say for certain.

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This would be an angle to the main entrance of the facility, having left no visible scar on the landscape.

8700 W Bryn Mawr Ave

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With Midway having taken over manufacturing duties by 1982, Bally decided to abandon the heart of Chicago and move far West to right outside the O’Hare airport in June 1983. These high class facilities remain home to many corporate entities and would be Bally’s platform for diversification and ultimate demise under the O’Donnell family.

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The facility is definitely beautiful in the way that giant high-rise buildings are. Of course there’s less personality to a place where a bunch of executives work versus a whole company situated in one location. It’s a sign of the times, though a different route than Williams took, still having some level of integration until the end.


I missed a few facilities such as Bally Distributing and Bally Pinball, but the main corporate offices are a stark reminder of the advancement of time. It’s fun for me to visit some new places around the city and hopefully good context for what Chicago once meant.

4 thoughts on “Chicago Legacy: Exploring Bally Manufacturing

  1. I love articles like these that digs into the history of where these amusements were created. It creates a new layer of appreciation about what effort and logistics went into creating the amusements we are so fond of. Chicago is a great city. I’ve written an article in my link that lists some of the highlights that the Midwest created for games and other kinds of play.

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    1. Very nice! It’s a shame that the Midwest tends to get forgotten in both the creation of games and computer systems. Two of the most advanced computers of their time, two different strands of modern Computer Aided Instruction, and a rich wargame tradition all come from this region. There are deep roots here that are worth remembering and it’s a shame we don’t have so much as a plaque to them in Chicago. I would have thought there would be a museum, but there’s nothing.

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  2. This is a great read with some very nice pictures! Thanks for digging this info up!

    Can you tell me where you found the picture of the inside of the Bally factory in 1932? Looks like it comes from a book? I’m making a short featurette about the birth of Bally and would love to use it!

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    1. Hello Jasper!

      It comes from Automatic Age. You can find uploads at https://aa.arcade-museum.com/ which has most of the big info on the early days of Bally.

      Archive also recently got some higher quality scans of Billboard magazine which covered coin-op in the 30s as well. Not as many photos, but if you want to delve into Bally you can check this link: https://archive.org/search.php?query=%22bally%20mfg%22&and%5B%5D=collection%3A%22pub_billboard%22&sin=TXT&sort=date

      Thanks much! I’d love to see or help out on your featurette.

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