Why do we call those connectors in a pinball machine a Jones plug? Should we even be calling them Jones plugs? Answering this question requires some background information. In the world of connectors (yes, there is such a world) there is something called a Jones connector that is fairly well known. They have been around for several decades, and have been used in many electronics applications. Back in the day, hobbyists could buy them at Radio Shack. They can even be found in vintage coin-op equipment, such as Seeburg juke boxes and Bally EM slot machines. Jones connector plugs come in a variety of sizes, all using a similar form-factor that is characterized by a rectangular phenolic base with rows and columns of flat blades. The matching connector consists of a phenolic base with rows and columns of slotted sockets to receive the blades.
The reason that THESE devices are called Jones connectors is no mystery. It's because there was a connector manufacturing company called Howard B. Jones that produced them in the first half of the 20th century. The Howard B. Jones company was fairly successful, and was eventually acquired by another connector company called Cinch in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Cinch continued to make Jones connectors (cleverly renaming them Cinch-Jones connectors) until fairly recently. As of 2022, Cinch now appears to be a division of the Belfuse Corporation. The Cinch division of Belfuse still offers a variety of connectors, but they no longer list the Cinch-Jones connector as an active product on their website. However, in case you need one, surplus Cinch-Jones connectors continue to be available from a variety of online suppliers, at least for now.
In any event, those Jones connectors are obviously nothing like our Jones connectors, so let's move on and take another look at that Howard B. Jones company. Was that company named after an actual person? Yes, it was. Mr. Jones was an inventor of, among other things, electrical connectors. Could his company have made our connector? Yes, it could. Mr. Jones' factory was located in Chicago, which is where all the pin games were made, so that's pretty exciting. And, he was actively in business in the mid 1930s, during the time that our Jones plugs made an appearance, which is even more exciting. And, most exciting of all, Mr. Jones filed several patents for different types of electrical connectors during this time. And that is where the excitement abruptly ends, because none of his connector patents describe a device that is even remotely like the plugs and sockets used in pinball machines.
So who the heck made our connector? Was it Howard B. Jones? It seems like it SHOULD be. Was it someone else? If so, who? And in that case, did everyone just start calling it a Jones plug because they confused it with the "other" Jones connector? That doesn't seem very likely. If only there was some concrete evidence to connect the Howard B. Jones company to our connector. But where would we find such a connection? It's not like sub-contractors took out ads in magazines to get companies to buy their products, did they? Well, it turns out that at least one time, in January of 1936, some of them did, although it's not clear how many of them actually wanted to. And for that, we have Jimmy Johnson to thank. To understand what I'm talking about, we once again need some more background information.
Back in the 1930s, there was a trade magazine called the Coin Machine Journal. It was a well-known magazine at the time, and it did a good job promoting the industry. Also at that time, there was a big annual trade show for the coin machine industry that was held at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. The Coin Machine Journal (CMJ) gave the show heavy coverage. They even published an annual show edition, which was printed up ahead of time so it would be ready to distribute to the show attendees.
Needless to say, most of the coin-op companies bought ad space in the annual CMJ show number. It was a good way to promote their new products to the distributers and operators who bought their products. And like today, the bigger your company, the more advertising you could afford. So having a large ad presence in the CMJ show number was a way to demonstrate (or at least imply) that you were one of the bigger industry players. And if you were a really big company, you'd buy a block of ad pages and create a small virtual brochure of gorgeous, full-color ad pages within the magazine. If you were a smaller company with a smaller ad budget, you wouldn't be able to compete with multi-page spreads like that. But maybe, with some outside help, you could fake it.
Jimmy Johnson owned Western Equipment and Supply, a maker of coin-op pin games and other amusement devices. Western was a fairly small company in 1936, while Mr. Johnson was a physically big and tough-looking guy. He was always hustling to get business, and by many accounts he came off as somewhat of a thug. And, apparently his business often had cash flow problems. In spite of all that, it has to be said that he was very clever at promoting his company.
Based on Western's actual ad buys in the CMJ show number, they had a big enough budget to purchase several two-color full-page ads. That's impressive, but Jimmy did something much more impressive than that. He figured out a way to get more consecutive ad pages in the magazine than anyone else. A full 62 pages, pages 129 to 190 to be exact, are devoted to Western.
How did he do it? He did it by creating a "Join Up with Jimmy" section of the magazine, and then somehow convincing a surprising number of his sub-contractors to buy ad space in the magazine, and put their ads in his section. We're talking about quarter-page, half-page, and even full-page display ads. Many of these sub-contractor ads reference their association with Western, and Jimmy made sure there was plenty of Western promotional material sprinkled in amongst the ads, so that the entire section would do a good job of promoting Western. Promotion that was, apparently, mostly paid for by his own suppliers.
For those of us who love pinball history, it's amazing to see such rare display advertising from so many suppliers that we may have heard of, or may have wondered about. Runzel Wire. Churchill Cabinets. Advertising Posters. Northwestern Photo Engraving. Illinois Lock Company. Chicago Mill and Lumber. Federal Die Casting. Guardian Electric. Atlas Press. Defoe Metal Finishing. It just goes on and on for over sixty pages.
While I'm personally thrilled to see all these ads, I can't help but wonder if at least some of the companies felt pressured to participate. I just get a sense that this section might have been somewhat of a "Join Up with Jimmy - or Else!" promotion. Hopefully I'm wrong. But in any case, it's a mother lode of information on the companies who were part of the industry in the early days, and for that I'm very grateful.
Oh, and about that Jones plug question. On page 146 of the CMJ show number for January 1936, here's one more company that decided to Join Up with Jimmy:
I don't think it really matters exactly how or why we all started calling these Jones plugs. The important thing, for me, is knowing that it's officially OK to call them that.