The punchboard originated in the seventeen hundreds for use in gambling. During this time, a pub owner would make a board, usually out of wood, and make small holes in it. He or she would then fill each of the drilled holes with a small game piece or ticket that was made of paper. These holes were then covered so players could not see what was inside. Players would then purchase a chance at the punch board from the pub owner and organiser. After purchasing their chance, patrons would pick a hole and puncture the cover. This was normally done with a sharp object such as a nail or pointy piece of wood. If the patron happened to puncture a hole that contained a winning number, they would be given a prize of some sort.
During the eighteen hundreds, it happened that the same people responsible for making the boards and filling the holes with prize numbers would actually punch their own holes. Since they knew where all of the big money was, this was a way for them to minimise their risk. Once this started happening, the use of these wooden punchboards started to greatly decline.
Then there was a new type of board that was introduced in the late eighteen hundreds. This board was different in that it operators were made to cover the holes on the front and on the back. This kept them from cheating by switching out winning tickets with losing tickets after someone had picked a good hole. These new boards were very popular with every day people and could be purchased at general stores. They even came with their own punching tool in the form of a metal rod. They were not dissimilar to modern day lottery tickets.
Like many things during the Industrial Revolution, the punchboard became easy and inexpensive to make. Tens of millions of boards were sold in the early 1900s, and in the late 1930s as many as 50 million were sold. This was the height of the games popularity.
After the Second World War, many people stopped using punchboards because they were essentially a gambling device. This was compounded by the fact that many states in the United States started to outlaw the punchboard. But with the decline in their use for gambling came their utilisation by another industry. This industry was the advertising industry. Cigarette and beer companies would construct large punchboards and put their products inside of them. Zippo is one of the most successful companies to utilise the board and sold over three hundred thousand lighters from the mid-thirties into the early forties.
Since the game’s inception, people have been using this device to cheat players out of money. They were able to do this because they knew the locations of all of the large rewards. To aid them in their cheating, operators would often make the boards with as few holes as possible. This would allow them to track where the big money was. Sometimes operators would even sell the patrons the locations of the prizes.