Where Does Bingo Come From?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

The game we call "bingo” actually started out as “beano.”

The history of the game dates back to the mid-1500s. "Lo Giuoco del Lotto D'Italia," or the Italian Lottery, was all the rage. Players had cards with numbered squares on them, and the winning numbers were drawn out of a sack. The game made its way to France in the late 1770s, and it was a young Frenchman who developed an alternate version. He printed numbers on cards, three horizontal rows and nine vertical, with the numbers one through 90 in random arrangements. Again, numbers were drawn from a sack, and the first person to cover a horizontal row was the winner.

Flash forward to early 1900s America, and “Beano” was all the rage at local carnivals. Similar to the French game, but with fewer numbers, players covered their squares with beans, prompting the winner to shout “beano!” Legend has it that in 1929, struggling toymaker Edwin S. Lowe observed a spirited round of Beano in New York and was inspired to create his own version. Acting as caller, he invited a group of friends to play using his version of the numbered cards. One player got increasingly agitated as his card neared completion, and when his final number was called, he called out “Bingo!” in excited confusion, and the name stuck.

Although that may be true, the term "Bingo" had been used for a similar game in the United Kingdom for years and likely lent its name to the American version. Either way, the game took off and helped save Lowe's toy company.