Wayne Neyens, the most prolific pinball designer of all time, has died just one day after celebrating his 104th birthday.
Wayne was in a hospice with his two daughters, Patty and Phyllis, in attendance when he died on Saturday 30th July.
Wayne’s life in pinball spanned five decades and saw enormous changes across the industry in the way the games were designed, built, sold and played.
After a short stint working at Western, Wayne joined Gottlieb in 1939. It was there that he found his true home under the wing of David Gottlieb. He designed nearly 160 production pinballs during his career there, starting with his first, College Daze, and concluding with 1976’s Spirit of 76, a game Wayne confidently predicted would sell over 10,000 units. He was proved correct, and the president of the company presented Wayne with the 10,000th machine. This became the only pinball Wayne kept at his home, until he eventually donated it to the Pacific Pinball Museum.
Wayne’s first game for which he was the sole designer was College Daze from August 1949. Wayne had been working under game designer Harry Mabs, but when Harry left to join Williams, 31-year-old Wayne stepped up.
He remained at Gottlieb throughout the rest of his career notching up numerous industry-firsts, including the add-a-ball system to facilitate operating pinball in regions where replays couldn’t be awarded, and the first multi-player electromechanical game.
By the time of his final game, Spirit of 76, in March 1976, Wayne had progressed to Vice President of Engineering and Product Development.
His 104th birthday was marked with a special cake, a celebratory banner from John and Jan Osborne, and the incrementing of a special sculpture given to Wayne by the Pacific Pinball Museum to mark his 100th birthday. Each birthday since, the score reels have been incremented by one year.
Wayne remained active and interested in events in the pinball industry throughout his long retirement, attending Pinball Expo into his nineties to give talks about his career, how the industry has changed and recalling the many, many games he was responsible for creating.
He was visited at his Mountain Home, Arkansas home by many pinball friends over the years, and became the subject of the cover story in issue 5 of Pinball Magazine in August 2018.
Wayne’s enormous contribution to pinball’s history will endure, and his numerous magical creations will continue to be treasured and enjoyed by both current and future generations of pinball players.
You can read much more about Wayne’s life in pinball and the celebrations held for his 100th birthday in our special report from Gordon Hasse.
Wayne’s funeral will take place on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, at 2pm, at the Roller Funeral Home, 25 County Rd 27, Mountain Home.