A bingo blower is an electronic motor-driven device that holds bingo balls, which resemble Ping-Pong balls. The bingo blower continually mixes the balls by blowing them around inside the device, then a chute on the blower randomly pulls a ball out for the caller of the bingo game. In this way a bingo blower ensures a random calling of each game.
Bingo blowers come in many configurations. The smaller bingo blowers or "bubble-top" blowers are sometimes called Las Vegas style blowers. They resembled popcorn poppers with the motor and fan encased in a base beneath a clear bubble top or dome. At the top of the dome is a tube where the random bingo ball is produced for the caller of the game.
Other bingo blowers can be quite large -- about the size of a desk -- and have an attached masterboard where pulled bingo balls sit in a grate until the game is complete and the grate device is manipulated to return the balls to the blower portion of the device.
Virtually all bingo blowers are made so that the players can always see the balls inside the device as they are mixed by the internal fan.
Bingo blowers range widely in price depending on the design. A bingo blower can cost anywhere from several hundred U.S. dollars to several thousand.
According to the Gambling Times Guide to Bingo, the game finds its roots in the Italian lottery Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia, going all the way back to the 1500's. Over the centuries it spread to other countries, and by the 1850s it was so popular in Germany that children were using the Lotto card to learn their multiplication tables.
In 1929 Edwin S. Lowe, a toy merchant, was traveling from New York to Georgia and stopped by chance at a carnival in Jacksonville. There he found people gathered around a booth playing a card game with beans. The pitchman would call a number from a wooden disk drawn from a cigar box and if someone had the number on his or her card they would cover it with a bean. The first one to get a line of beans vertically, horizontally or diagonally would yell "Beano!" The people were so enthusiastic they would not let the pitchman close his booth to retire for the night. Edwin wanted to play but could not get a seat. When the pitchman finally chased everyone away Edwin asked about the game. The carnival worker said he had been traveling in Germany and discovered the game there. He'd made a few changes and had renamed it, "Beano."
Edwin went home and made up his own cards and wooden disks. He invited friends to play at his house, using beans to cover their cards. One of his guests got so tongue-tied upon winning she yelled, "Bingo!" by mistake. Something struck Lowe and the rest, as they say, is history. Bingo was so popular that within several months of it hitting the market even churches discovered it was a great way to raise funds, and remains so to this day.
Bingo blowers have taken us a long way from the tattered cigar box at a carnival faire in Jacksonville, and lay testament to the enjoyment of a game that has endeared us and endured for 400+ years, and is likely to endure 400 more.