The Playograph made possible the re-creation of live baseball games. The device was designed to display and update the score of a game in real-time. For the first time in history, this allowed spectators to follow the game’s progress from any distance.
George T. Bowman, a mechanical engineer from New York, patented the Playograph in 1895 . He then founded Baseball Playograph Company in Stamford, Connecticut. The device consisted of a billboard-sized wall that could relay – even act out – events of a baseball game. Sometimes a Playograph was placed in the actual game venue. However, it was known for providing a facsimile of the game to audiences far from the ballpark.
During the period from 1895 to around 1930, there was no television, very little radio, and certainly no internet. What they did have were telephones and telegraphs. Fans that couldn’t show up at the game either had to wait for the next newspaper. But if lucky, they could “watch” the game real-time on the Playograph (or other competing brand).
How It Worked
As the reader can see in the picture on this page, the Playograph listed details of each team on either side. In the center, there was a representation of the diamond and outfield. The score, outs, count, and inning were replaceable sign elements. You could even track the ball’s movement for pitches and hits thanks to a large replica of a ball controlled by vertical and horizontal strings.
The Playograph was the most popular of its kind. However, several other devices were developed that were similar in function to the Playograph. Here are a few examples:
Compton’s Baseball Bulletin: In 1893, James Compton, a Chicago sports editor, created a device called the Compton’s Baseball Bulletin. This was a large board with numbered boxes that corresponded to each position on the baseball field. When a play was made, a scorekeeper would place a ball or a disc in the appropriate box to indicate the result of the play.
Score-O-Graph: In 1908, a device called the Score-O-Graph was introduced by the Western Electric Company. This device was designed to provide real-time updates of college football games and featured an electric scoreboard that could display the score, time remaining, and other game statistics.
Jordan-Mott Scoreboard: The Jordan-Mott Scoreboard was developed in the 1920s. It was used primarily for horse racing. It consisted of a large mechanical scoreboard that displayed the horses’ names and positions in the race.
Telescribe: In the 1930s, the Telescribe was developed by RCA as a device for providing real-time updates of sporting events to radio broadcasters. The device used telegraph lines to transmit game updates to a central location, where they were then broadcast to radio listeners.
Improvements and the 1911 World Series
The Playograph was popular with baseball fans and was adopted by several major league teams. They included the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. By the early 1900s, the device had been improved to include electric motors that could automatically update the score as the game progressed.
The Playograph played a role in the sold-out 1911 World Series games between Philadelphia Athletics and the the New York Giants. It is said that nearly twice as many people witnessed the Playograph game in Herald Square as saw the game live at the Polo Grounds.
Tickets for the 1905 World Series, during which the Playograph was used, ranged in price from $1 to $3 for the live game. Playograph customers paid between 25 and 50 cents per ticket. However, getting a bargain was seldom the issue. Most who could get to the ballpark did so. The Playograph provided the best alternative for those far away. Of course, you had to bring your own Cracker Jack.
Over time, the Playograph evolved to include more advanced features, such as the ability to display player statistics, game summaries, and even replays of key moments in the game. In the 1920s and 1930s, radio broadcasts of baseball games became increasingly popular, and the Playograph was often used in conjunction with radio broadcasts to provide fans with a more immersive experience.
Changing technology began to overtake the Playograph by the 1930s. First radio, then television brought the game into millions of American homes.
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