Buffalo in the ’40s: Advances in WNY helped usher in modern era of bowling

       By Steve Cichon

Just after World War II ended, American Machine and Foundry moved into the former Walden Avenue plant of the Buffalo Arms Company, just east of Harlem in Cheektowaga.

AMF Automatic pinspotter, manufactured in Cheektowaga

Almost immediately, workers there began churning out a device that would allow bowling to become one of the great American pastimes of the postwar era.

AMF had been petitioning the American Bowling Congress to give approval to its automatic pinsetter, and that thumbs up came only weeks before the annual tournament, held in 1946 at Buffalo’s Connecticut Street Armory.

Bowling on Buffalo’s West Side

At a small garage across the street from the armory — now the site of a 7-Eleven store — AMF set up the first public display of the “most revolutionary piece of equipment in the fastest growing of all participant sports.”

The mechanized pinsetter and ball return eliminated the jobs of thousands of boys around the country who acted as pinsetters, but also allowed for the popular sport to be played 24 hours a day.

“Operating as rapidly as the bowler wishes, it automatically runs the gamut of bowling services setting up the pins, returning the ball to the player, and sweeping the alley of fallen pins,” read a press release that was reprinted on sports pages around the country.

The equipment still wasn’t practical for mass production, but four lanes were installed in a Depew bowling alley in 1947 to begin working out the kinks. In 1952, Amherst Lanes was one of the first two bowling alleys in the country to have the final production model pinsetters installed.

By 1953, AMF’s Cheektowaga plant was cranking out 100 automatic pinsetter units every month. Three years later, there were more than 9,000 machines in use around the country.

The automated pinsetting devices that were first unveiled to the public in that West Side garage in 1946 and then produced on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga catapulted bowling into the national phenomenon it was for several generations, making it a billion-dollar industry when the pinsetter turned 25 years old in 1971.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.