Advertisement for the Erie Digger. Photo courtesy of International Arcade Museum.
THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA
The concept of skill tester machines began in the 1890s as a hand-cranked digger device intended to dispense candies for a penny. Come the 1920s and The Erie Digger was conceived—an actual patented skill game that uses a miniature steam shovel to dig prizes for 1 to 5 cents. For decades, many manufacturers built their own unique versions of the crane game, including electronically operated ones, which had bundled coins and paper currency as prizes to entice more players.
THE EVOLUTION OF CLAW MACHINES
In the 1950s, federal laws required skill tester claw machines to only be operated at carnivals amusement devices. During such time, manufacturers had to get rid of the coin slots and cash prizes. Instead, they hired a digger operator to collect dimes from players and pull a string to the machine’s lever that would jumpstart the game.
With the laws further softened in the ‘70s, skill tester claw machines eventually kept up with technological advancements, allowing more sophisticated versions from Europe and Asia to enter the U.S. market. Coin slots returned and the trolley-style claw machines we are now familiar with were introduced. These large crane games were manipulated through solid state circuit boards to pick up plush toys and drop them into the chute. Skill tester machines for sale began enforcing a single forward and sideways claw motion to add more challenge to the game.
SKILL TESTERS AT PRESENT
By the mid- ‘80s, diggers have gone a long way from being wooden boxes with impossible-to-win prizes into successful plush-toy pickers that people have come to love through the years, thriving on repeat crane players and skill challengers. With the promise of high quality merchandise, a single skill tester for sale today can earn significantly with minimal maintenance.
No other coin-operated machine has survived a century in the amusement industry. Today, jukeboxes, pinball, and the likes are nearly nowhere to be found. It’s safe to say that claw cranes have excelled to stand the test of time.
A hundred years later, one can easily find attractive, trendy skill tester machines in pizza parlours, malls, hotels, and restaurants—bonding families and giving them pure entertainment worth their time.