Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Early History of Sega - Service Games Part 1 - the Prehistory of Service Games

In recently came across some solid information about one of Sega's predecessors - Service Games. If you're read much on the early history of Sega, you've probably learned that it was formed via a merge of two existing companies: Rosen Enterprises and Service Games, the latter of which was founded in the early 1950s to distribute games on US military bases, first in Hawaii, and later overseas.

Unfortunately, beyond these basic facts, you probably didn't learn much else. About the only work that goes into the predecessors of Sega in any detail is Steven Kent's seminal Ultimate History of Video Games. While it does a good job discussing Rosen Enterprises, however, it goes into much less detail on Service Games and what little information it does have isn't entirely accurate (or at least incomplete).

Nonetheless, Kent’s book remains -perhaps the most thorough telling of the early history of Sega. And that’s part of the problem. You would think that for a company as important as Sega, its full history would be well known and well documented. Sadly, in my opinion, it is neither. Not only do most sources barely cover the company’s early years but they generally ignore its non-console history altogether. Even Sam Pettus’ Service Games: The Rise and Fall of Sega, is guilty. Of the book’s 386 pages (using my current Kindle settings), probably three of them talk about Sega’s pre-console history and arcade games probably don’t even get that. It’s really a shame, because Sega has probably produced more arcade games than any other company on the planet – well over 500 video games alone. Even the company itself does not seem to be aware of its own history and has listed 1951 as the date of its founding.
In this article, I will try to give a more accurate account of Service Games and its early history. I don’t pretend that this will be a comprehensive history and given the conflicting information that’s out there, I have no doubt that I will get some things wrong myself. One problem with researching Sega’s early history is the dearth of information in existing sources. Another (that seems endemic to video game histories) is that even those works that do have seemingly accurate information do not identify their sources. Nonetheless, I did find some sources that provide what seems to be some solid facts about Service Games and its founders. Two of them are legal documents (always a great source for hard dates and other info).

One is the case Martin Bromley and Allyn Bromley v. Commissioner United States Federal Tax Court, filed December 9, 1964 and available at this link

The other is a 1971 Senate investigation with the laborious title, “
Fraud and corruption in management of military club systems. Illegal currency manipulations affecting South Vietnam. Report of the Committee on Government Operations United States Senate made by its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. November 2, 1971”.

Most of the information in this post, aside from the biographical info, is taken from these sources.

Service Games actually appears to have been formed in 1945 by Irving Bromberg, his son Martin, and James L Humpert. Before we get to the company, however, let’s talk about the men who founded it.

NOTE – information below was taken from various sources available on Ancestry, including the 1920, 1930, and 1940 federal census, 1925 New York state census, Social Security Death Index, California Death Index, World War I Draft Registrations, New York Marriage Index, city directories from Los Angeles and Honolulu, and various ship passenger lists. This was made a bit difficult by the fact that there were two Irving Brombergs living in LA at the time, both with sons named Martin.

Irving Bromberg and Dave Robbins in 1937
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Irving Bromberg was born on June 10, 1899 in New York. On June 15, 1918 Irving, who had just turned 19, married Jeannette Blumenthal. In September 1918, Irving registered for the World War I draft in Brooklyn, listing his occupation as a salesman of glassware. On August 6, 1919 Irving and Jeannette’s son Martin Jerome Bromberg was born. On the 1920 census, Irving was still selling glassware. From 1923 to 1930, he served as president of the Greenpoint Motor Car Corp of Brooklyn and from 1930 to 1933 he operated a vending and coin-operated amusement machine distribution company called Irving Bromberg Co. in Brooklyn, Boston, and Washington DC (Fraud and corruption… 1971). On the 1930 census, Irving listed his occupation as a salesman of “chewing gum” (by then, they had a second child: daughter Ehthelda, who had been born in 1924). In 1933, he sold the New York office to Leon Taksen, who had managed the office (Billboard 7/29/33).  Though the July 1933 issue of Coin Machine Journal included an ad saying that the Supreme Vending Company of Brooklyn (Wm Blatt pres) had purchased the Irving Bromberg Company of Brooklyn. That same year Irving moved to Los Angeles and opened up either another company called Irving Bromberg Co. or another branch of his existing company

Ad for Irving Bromberg Co in Los Angeles, 1934

Irving Bromberg Co, New York 1932
 The March 1933 issue of Coin Machine Journal reported that Bally had opened "another office at 1034 W. 7th , Los Angeles, Calif., under the management of Irving Bromberg. The April 1933 issue of Automatic Age reported that "Irving Bromberg of Los Angeles has taken over the Pacific Coast representation of the Universal Novelty Mfg Co". So it seems he moved to LA in early 1933. Around September 1933, the Irving Bromberg Co and SS Glaser of LA merged (Automatic Age 9/33). Though it seems they operated under the name Irving Bromberg Co as ads continue to appear using that name.

According to the senate report, Iriving formed a new distribution company called Standard Games Co. in Los Angeles in 1934. A search of the arcade museum's Automatic Age and Coin Machine Journal archives, however, turns up no reference to the company (Perhaps they were doing business as Irving Bromberg Company??) As a distributor, Bromberg played a major role in the popularizing two of the most important early pinball games. The first was Bingo, released in 1931 by the Bingo Novelty Company. Bingo’s claim to fame is that it was sold to David Gottlieb, who modified the game and released it as Baffle Ball, which has been credited with launching the modern pinball industry. Bingo, however, was a national hit in its own right, a fact that pinball historian Dick Bueschel attributes to a salesman named Leo Berman. After Gottlieb began producing Bingo in the Midwest, Berman took the game to New York, where he paid a visit to his old operator friend Irving Bromberg to see if he was interested in becoming a Bingo rep. As Bueschel describes it in his 1996 book Pinball 1

"Bromberg, not having facilities of his own, got ahold of his friend, Hymie Budin, a specialty jobber of roasted peanuts, gum, candy and glass globes for vending machines, and sold him on the idea of leasing window space. That made Budin "the first distributor to have a pin game display in his quarters. That's when he was down on Dumont Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn, and Irving Bromberg ... displayed his first three Bingo machines in one of Hymie's front display windows. Hymie just couldn't waste the space in his store, for the men crowded in daily for their supplies of nuts and candies and peanut machines, so he allowed Irving to display his Bingo machines in his front windows."' The display got off to a slow start "and it was some time before Irving could get the operators to even think of buying this sort of contraption." lt wasn't long before "Bromberg had about ten Bingo games stocked one atop another and, after some effort, sold out in a few weeks at the price of $12.50 each." Bromberg was firmly established as a Brooklyn game distributor by late October, 1931."  (quotes are from The Coin Machine Journal, January 1941 and January 1940)

 In Los Angeles, Bromberg had a hand in the success of another influential pinball game – Harry Williams’ Contact. While Contact was not the first pinball game with sound, electricity, and a kicker device as some have reported, it did popularize the features. According to an article by Roger Sharpe in the July 1989 issue of Play Meter, ”Contact did not gain national recognition until it was noticed by a Bally distributor, Irving Bromberg,”

Meanwhile, Martin Bromberg graduated from high school and went to work for his father. At some point, Martin went to Hawaii and began selling games to US servicemen stationed there. At the time, Hawaii was still a US territory and mainland distributors were likely not selling games there. Exactly when the Brombergs began selling games in Hawaii is unclear. From passenger lists, we know that Irving and his wife made a trip there in January 1940. According to the 1964 case, “In or about 1940, Irving Bromberg, Glen Hensen, James L. Humpert, and the petitioner [Martin Bromberg/Bromley] formed a coin-operated machine company in Honolulu known as Standard Games." We also know that Martin Bromberg was inducted in the navy during World War II but was placed on inactive duty due to his employment at the Pearl Harbor shipyard (Fraud and corruption…1971). Humpert was also employed at the shipyard. From the wording, it seems that this “employment” was independent of their coin-machine company. According to other source, James Humpert was a friend of Martin’s – a claim that draws some support from the fact that the 1964 case reveals that he and Martin were each entitled to one-third of the profits of the Irving Bromberg Company of LA.

A very bad photo of Marty Bromley in 1941

And a better one from 1989 (Marty's the one on the left)

In any event, Irving Bromberg returned LA and continued to run his distributing companies. (as indicated by many references in Billboard). The January 12, 1946 issue of Billboard reports that Marty and Irving were due to visit Chicago to discuss selling the Irving Bromberg Co of LA to Chicago distributor Al Stern, which they appear to have done shortly thereafter.

The 1964 case claims that Standard Games of Hawaii "...continued until 1945, at which time it was sold."

NOTE - I have removed this part of the article after doing more research and will move it to part two, with the addition of further details

And to clean up some loose genealogical ends:

Irving Bromberg died on January 20, 1973 in Los Angeles.
Martin Jerome Bromley died on September 7, 2008 in London.

Bonus Pictures

Here's a rare photo of an upright Exidy 0077 cabinet from an industry show. They later added some more levels and renamed it Top Secret



  1. Heh, you beat me to the punch, my next post is going to feature a large section on Service Games, largely drawn from the same two legal sources. Just a few thoughts of my own to add.

    First, don't trust anything Pettus says and don't use that awful book as a source if you can help it. It's bad, really bad.

    Second, I don't believe Service Games of Japan did any manufacturing in the 1950s or operated outside of Japan.. The key company appears to be Club Specialty Overseas in Panama (Bromley eventually became a Panamanian citizen), which sat at the heart of a web of companies across Europe and Asia. Club Specialty did business in Europe through various subsidiary companies just as it did business in Japan through Service Games of Japan.

    They key fact in the Sega story, which you may be going into in your next post, is that the Sega of today is NOT the Service Games of Japan established in 1952. In June 1960, Bromley and his partners terminated the original Sega, and reconstituted its business as two separate entities. Nihon Goraku Bussan, which also did business as Utamatic, Inc., carried on the distribution business, representing Rockola, Bally, Williams, and American Shuffleboard in the Far East. Meanwhile, Nihon Kikai Seizo, which also did business as Sega, Inc., became a manufacturer of slot machines, which Utamatic and other Club Specialty distributors sold around Asia and Europe. (According to an interview I conducted with Larry Siegel, who worked for Sega Europe in the 1970s, but did not actually work at the company during this time period, Sega got into manufacturing by fabricating replacement parts for Mills slot machines that it imported and got so good at it that they decided to make their own machines).

    In 1964, the two companies merged, with Nihon Goraku Bussan as the surviving entity. Then of course, Nihon Goraku Bussan merged with Rosen Enterprises to form Sega Enterprises, Ltd. the next year. This is the Sega of today, though as you know it spent time as a subsidiary of Sega Enterprises, Inc., a former cosmetic company in the Gulf and Western empire under a new name, before breaking free in a management buyout supported by the CSK Corporation in 1984.

    1. D'oh, I meant that I don't think Service Games of Japan operated outside the Far East in the 1950s. Obviously they were in more places than just Japan.

  2. A post by Alex and Keith in the same week? Huzzah!

    I think Sega is absolutely fascinating, especially considering the split origin of East and West. Of course historians have felt that way too, but I'm a bit disappointed you didn't examine that any. Not that I'm sure you have much information to at all, but did you perhaps run into anything that talked about that cultural divide? We of course have the later famous story about Atari Japan, but back then was it any easier to integrate?

    Will have to re-read that section in TUHoV again. It's a shame that's the only really good resource available on pre-Master System Sega, and going by Alex's statements Service Games is not worth even acknowledging as a source. Seems like no one really started paying attention until that point, though there's also the matter of how it was never just a single company, but you'll get to that. I'm on the cusp of writing about its rebirth in 1985, and that'll be a challenge until I have a solid foundation of the company's arcade roots.

  3. Was just putting the finishing touches on my blog post that covers some of this same material and wanted to point out something else I noticed. The two announcements about the sale of Bromberg offices in New York do not contradict each other. According to an ad in the May 1933 Automatic Age, the main headquarters of Irving Bromberg Co. was on Debevoise St. in Brooklyn, while a branch office run by Leon Tasken was located on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City. Clearly, Tasken bought the Amsterdam office and Supreme Vending bought the main Brooklyn office.

    1. Thanks. I figured that out after I took a closer look. I don't know if he really sold "the company" either. It looks like he just sold the New York and Brooklyn offices and opened another offices in LA. I still didn't find any mention of "Standard Games" in LA, but it's kind of a hard name to search for.

    2. Yeah, I don't think he sold the company either, just the East coast branches (I have no proof he sold in Boston or D.C., but I never see those locations advertised again after mid 1933 either). Interestingly, he did apparently still have a company in Brooklyn after the sale, Irving Manufacturing and Vending Company. This is definitely a Bromberg concern, because he is mentioned in a December 1933 article about the company in Automatic Age. Those crazy Brombergs and their crazy web of companies.

    3. Never mind! Just did some more digging on Irving Manufacturing and Vending and its named for Irving Avenue, not Irving Bromberg. The owner was actually a woman named Babe Kaufman, and the fact that Bromberg was referenced in that article I referred to is a coincidence.