Who Invented Paintball? (and When?)
The answer to the question “who invented paintball” is twofold. The paintball gun was created in the 1960s as a way for loggers to mark trees to cut down, and cattle farmers to mark cattle from afar on horseback. But the game of paintball, well that’s a different story, one that we’ll dive into to uncover the rich history of paintball.
What Was Paintball Originally Used For?
Originally invented to mark trees and cattle, the marker itself was invented in the 1960s by Charles Nelson. The gun was never intended to be used on people, and was created to be a much more accurate and easier way to mark trees and livestock from afar by park rangers and cattle farmers.
In 1972, the Nelson Paint Company tried to sell their marker, the Crosman 707, but it was a commercial failure. Charles Nelson decided to partner with Daisy, the company famous for making the iconic Red Ryder BB Gun. Nelson was able to turn his idea into the iconic Nel-Spot 007 marker, ushering in a new era of paintball as a survival sport.
It would take twenty years after the creation of the paintball marker for twelve friends to use them in a game of capture the flag.
From Tagging Trees to Tagging Friends
The game itself started as a bet. Who would win in a survival contest, the country-raised woodsman or city-born Wall Street stockbroker? Would the city-dweller’s instinct to survive rise above the knowledge of a man who spent his youth hunting, fishing and building cabins? From an argument that started over a round of drinks, Bob Gurnsey (a sporting goods retailer,) Hayes Noel (the Wall Street stockbroker,) Charles Gaines (an outdoorsman and writer) were about to begin the world’s first game of paintball.
In June of 1981 in the New Hampshire countryside, twelve players with Nel-Spot 007 paintball markers got ready to settle the bet, once and for all. The first game was a capture-the-flag format, with six woodsmen and six city men battling it out to collect all flags without being eliminated to be crowned the winner.
It’s reported that the game was won by the woodsmen, more specifically by a forester Ritchie White. White chose stealth as his strategy. He quietly moved to each flag station, collecting all of his flags, winning the game without firing a shot.
The Evolution of Paintball
One of the twelve players, Bob Jones, wrote an article about his experience in the first-ever game of paintball that was published in the 1981 October issue of Sports Illustrated. Readers were fascinated by the bet and the idea of a contest for survival. The article launched a nationwide interest in what was eventually trademarked the “National Survival Game,” the game of paintball.
After the success of the article, Bob Gurnsey (one of the original players) began selling a $150 “Survival Game” package, including a paintball marker, paintballs, goggles, and a rule book. Gurnsey made a deal with the Nelson Paint Company and turned a considerable profit setting up paintball fields and distributing paintball gear. In 1982, he opened the world’s first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire.
In 1983, Gurnsey would host the first major paintball tournament, the National Survival Game National Championship with a grand prize of $3,000. From then on, paintball would spread as an international sensation.
What Paintball Looks Like Today
From its humble beginnings in the woods, paintball has become a beloved sport with worldwide recognition. Today, the sport is played for recreation and competitively with formal sporting events that involve professional teams and players. In 1995, paintball had its TV debut as ESPN screened the World Championship Games.
It’s a multimillion-dollar industry that’s ever-evolving. With major tournaments, customized outdoor tactical fields and stadiums with artificial terrain, paintball has officially become a recognized sport and an international phenomenon.
It’s no longer just a competition game, paintball is also used by military forces, law enforcement, and security organizations to supplement training. There’s a wide range of games available, from capture the flag to elimination to even zombie paintball shooting games.
In terms of paintball gear, there’s more variety than ever before. After Bob Gurnsey founded the first paintball company, rival paintball companies sprang up and paintball technology quickly developed. Paintball technology developed to create state-of-the-art equipment, from high-quality Tippmann markers and Spyder markers to the creation of biodegradable, water-soluble, non-toxic paintballs.
Paintballs also developed from being oil-based in the ‘80s to being the vegetable oil and gelatin mix that we are familiar with today. Players are no longer stuck shooting single-shot pistols; modern paintball equipment might include fully-automatic speedball games with markers that cost over $1,000.
The Future of Paintball
From its roots as a survival game, many players have tried to face the decades-old question: who would win in a contest of wilderness survival? For modern players, the game has evolved from a trial of trying to survive in the woods. With a range of guns and gear available from masks to markers, there’s plenty of variety in modern paintball equipment. While it is true that the game is more about a player’s skill and daring than the price of their marker, it’s clear that technological improvements have had a tremendous impact on the way the sport is played.
At Lone Wolf Paintball, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of paintball technology.
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