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Bingo Reaches North America

The origins of bingo in North America began in 1928, when the man who brought bingo to America had been traveling with a carnival in Germany. He saw a game called Lotto being played there, and when he returned to America, he modified the game slightly and opened up his own stall in a carnival so that American's could also play the game. He changed the name of the game to Beano and played it on the Carnival circuit. He found that crowds loved to play and the game was a good money-maker.

In December of 1929, Edwin S. Lowe, a New York toy salesman, drove on early to Jacksonville, Georgia, as he had appointments there that next day. He had been in business for a year, and soon after he started his business, the market crashed. The future of his toy business was not looking good.

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Before Lowe reached Jacksonville, he came across a carnival. Only one carnival booth was still open. The crowd was so large that he had to stand on his tiptoes from the back to look over the shoulders of the participants. The game being played was Beano. The pitchman, or caller, had placed numbered cards and beans (used to cover the numbers) on a horse-shoe shaped table. He drew numbers which were written on small wooden disks, out of a cigar box. When a player filled up a line on their card (in any direction), they had won and would shout out "Beano!". Winners received small Kewpie dolls.

When Lowe went back home to New York, he purchased a rubber numbering stamp, some cardboard, and some dried beans. He invited friends over and they played Beano, as he had seen it played at the carnival. The tension and excitement was palpable. One day, a woman became tongue tied as she jumped up to call "Beano!", so she mistakenly cried out "B-b-b-bingo!"  This was a turning point in the history of bingo.

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Lowe knew, as soon as she shouted out "bingo" that he would make the game and call it by that name. The game put Lowe's company back on its feet. He brought out two variations of Lowe Bingo. One was a 12 card set for one dollar, and the other was a 24 card set for two dollars. Lowe did not turn Bingo into a trademark, seeing as the game had come from the public domain, and while he could have turned the name into a trademark, he felt it was not necessary. The game flourished as imitators made and sold their own Bingo sets. All that Lowe asked of his competitors was that they pay him one dollar each year, and that they also called their versions of the game "Bingo." This was a far better decision than possible litigation. Thus, Bingo became the generic name it is today.

A priest from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania wanted to use the game for fundraising, but found that he needed more unique bingo cards. He approached Lowe who arranged for a mathematics professor at Columbia University, Carl Leffer, to figure out the number combinations. 6,000 cards with non-repeating numbers were created. Bingo continued, and still continues to spread today.