SL's Kenrick honored for inventing air hockey

Bob Kenrick and his friend, Brad Baldwin, were always goofing around when they worked at Brunswick in Muskegon back in the 1960s.
Matt DeYoung
Apr 6, 2012

 

Fellow Brunswick employee Phil Crossman came up with the idea to build a game using an air-cushioned table; and Kenrick, a mechanical engineer, helped develop the table. That was the easy part. Figuring out a game to play on it took a bit more tinkering.

“One day, Brad walked in, threw a disc on the table, the disc went off the edge, and he said, ‘You missed, you buy coffee,’” recalls Kenrick, who lives with his wife, Sally, in Spring Lake. “I said, ‘I demand the right to defend,’ so we grabbed two blackboard erasers and started banging the thing back and forth.

“The boss walked in and said, ‘What the ‘blank’ are you guys doing?’ I said, ‘What does it look like we’re doing? We’re playing air hockey.’”

That was the inauspicious start of the game that’s now a mainstay at video game parlors, movie theaters and basement game rooms around the world.

That was in the late 1960s. Kenrick recorded an entry into the company logbook regarding air hockey, and the game became a hit with company employees. But when the game was presented to the board, they turned it down.

“That would have been in 1967, ‘68,” Kenrick said. “I left Brunswick around 1970. Then, in the early ‘70s, the national sporting goods association show was at Navy Pier in Chicago. Bob Lemieux, the engineer at Brunswick, got the assignment to come up with some attraction to be in the entry booth. Brunswick had the front entrance booth, and he had the idea of air hockey.

“He got it out of the warehouse, had the technicians finish it, and they put it in the entrance booth at the NSGA show,” he continued. “By noon the first day, they had an order for thousands of them. They sold $40 million the first year.”

That’s when the game really took off. Unfortunately, Kenrick wasn’t at Brunswick, so he didn’t get a chance to glow in the success of the game he helped create.

He does have the satisfaction of being one of the three men — along with Lemieux and Crossman — whose names are on the official patent as creating the game of air hockey.

“Phil came up with the idea of the table, I put the logbook entry in, and then Lemieux came along and arranged it to be producible,” Kenrick said.
He’s petitioned to get Baldwin’s name on the patent, but to no avail.

That didn’t stop the Muskegon Lumberjacks from honoring Kenrick, 76, and Baldwin, 79, of Grandville, during a home game at L.C. Walker Arena back in February.

Kenrick and Baldwin had a chance to drop the opening puck at the game, and then played a game of air hockey on a small portable table that was put out on the ice.

“I was never able to get Brad’s name on the patent because he didn’t do much in that department, but he did come up every coffee break and lunch, and we played it and refined it,” Kenrick said.

Read more of this story in today's print edition or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

 

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