Automatic Pinsetters: What’s Going on Back There?

BY: Groupon Guide |Jul 8, 2015
Automatic Pinsetters: What’s Going on Back There?

Milwaukee residents are a tough bunch. They endure cold winters, hot summers, and painful reminders every October that the Brewers have yet to win a World Series. The town certainly doesn’t need any help getting back on its feet after heavy snowstorms or news that a certain Bucks rookie has gone down with a torn ACL. Compared with the bowlers in Milwaukee, bowling pins don’t rebound quite as readily.

In fact, they need a lot of help returning to their upright state and lining back up for the ball’s next roll. Read on for an explanation of how automatic pinsetters put pins back in their rightful places, frame after frame.

Human Predecessors

Though automatic pinsetters were being developed by bowling companies as early as the 1910s, it was an alley owner who provided the push for their mass production. In the 1930s, George Beckerle reportedly complained to inventor and regular bowler Gottfried Schmidt about his pinboys, who didn’t always re-rack pins the way they should. At the time, pins were almost universally set by human hands, often those of low-paid teenage boys. Since pinboys had to jump down into the ball pit to set the pins, serious injuries were not uncommon.

Picking Up the Pins Left Standing

Unless the first roll is a strike, some of the pins will still be left standing. This is where the pin table comes in. The apparatus lowers on top of the standing pins and grasps them with its tongs, lifting them away from the lane. The pin table then lowers them back down for the bowler’s second roll.

Clearing Away Fallen Pins

After the ball falls into the ball pit, a rectangular sheet of metal called the sweep lowers to guard the pins from illegal rolls. Then, the sweep pulls back, knocking the downed pins into the ball pit just before the pin table replaces the remaining pins.


Meanwhile, the pins continue on into the pin elevator, which feeds the pin distributor, a device that lets the pin table emerge with a fresh rack of 10 when the second roll is finished. Any lane has a total of 20 pins moving through its guts at all times.

Returning the Ball to the Player

As the spent pins are pushed toward the pin elevator by a conveyor, the ball veers off through a door and onto a downward-tilted track located beneath the lane. Gravity gets the ball most of the way, and an S-shaped series of wheels delivers the ball up to the player.

Where might one see these robo-setters in action? Just about any bowling alley in Milwaukee, as a matter of fact—aside from the occasional throwback, automatic pinsetters are pretty much industry standard. Here are some alleys where you can put these modern bowling marvels to work: