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The Roanoke Pinball Museum

Posted By John Forsythe, Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2016

One of Virginia’s newest museums is the Roanoke Pinball Museum. It opened June 18th of last year at Center in the Square. It is a cross between a gallery of artifacts and a throwback to an old arcade. Pinball machines predate video games and have managed to hold their own as a source of entertainment while video games have miniaturized and became ubiquitous. The Roanoke Pinball Museum looks to document the history of pinball as entertainment from 1932 until the present day. The collection has grown from 35 machines to 60 machines that are available for the public to try. This of course is unique in that most museums do not allow the public to “play” their artifacts! In addition to the machines available for public use, more are being restored and added to the collection.


The museum began as a vision of Steve Bowery, who is a board member of Center in the Square. He was seeking to preserve and share with the public his collection of 15 pinball machines. As the project developed, more machines were sourced locally. Individuals, as well as arcades and bars, donated machines. Pinball machines have been sourced from all over North America to ensure the collection becomes more complete. The local collection was only the start of the community sourced effort.


With interest beginning to grow, the next questions revolved around funding and audience engagement. Center in the Square granted the nascent museum $25,000 and the Center in the Square Society raised even more money. Center in the Square staff rolled up their sleeves and completed much of the initial work, with word of mouth creating the Founder’s Club. Men and women began to volunteer time and expertise. Christopher Jason Reid, a woodworker, built the bar. An electrical engineer began to learn how to restore the machines and founded the Pinball Medics, who keep the museum’s collection operational. The museum is even planning workshops for people to learn about the “brains” of the machines to expand the knowledge base. 


These days, the Pinball Museum is helping to raise funds in support of Center in the Square.Already, the museum is operating in the black, successfully transitioning from an offbeat attraction to a serious partner the in preservation of contemporary artifacts. As the second year of the museum gets under way, education is another important part of the museum’s plan. To be relevant to school curriculums, the museum can use pinball machines to teach SOLs on physics – mass, speed, acceleration, force, kinetic energy, and potential energy. Plan to join VAM at the 2017 annual conference in Roanoke and visit The Pinball Museum while you’re in Roanoke!

Tags:  Center in the Square  collections  museums  Roanoke  VAM  Virginia 

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