The history of paintball, its invention, and its development is more fascinating than you’d think!
Here’s a timeline of the history of paintball.
1960s: Paintball origin and the first paintball marker
Paintball is a relatively new sport, going back to the 1980s, but the first paintball was invented in the 1960s by Nelson Paint and called Nelspot 007. The only purpose of this paint gun was for loggers and cattle farmers to mark trees and cattle more efficiently.
Fun fact: Since the Nelspot 007 was for marking trees and cattle, the company called it a marker, which is why we still refer to a paintball gun as a paintball marker today.
Back then, they used oil paint in their pellets, and cattlemen and loggers would mark their targets from a distance by shooting a single paintball.
1970s: Hayes Noel and Charles Gain invent a new game
In the 1970s, Hayes Noel and his best friend Charles Gains started discussing a new game where city dwellers could try to survive in the woods. Noel was a Wall Street stock trader, and Gains was an outdoorsman and writer.
For years they would exchange new ideas about this make-believe game and debate who would win between a street-smart city person and an outdoorsman trying to survive in the woods.
One day, Charles Gain visited his hometown in New Hampshire and came across the Nelspot 007 in a farmer’s catalog. He was immediately impressed by the technology, which gave him an idea of how he could use it in their combat-simulator and survival game.
Eventually, Gain and Noel decided to make their simulation game a reality. They invited their friend Bob Gurnsey to test the paintball marker’s safety and refine the game’s rules.
1981: The first paintball game
The first official paintball game was played on 7th June 1981 in New Hampshire by a group of 12 people.
The twelve participants of the first paintball game were:
- Hayes Noel (Wall Street stock trader)
- Charles Gains (outdoorsman and writer)
- Bob Gurnsey (paintball rules maker)
- Jerome Gray (filmmaker)
- Ritchie White (forester)
- Ronnie Simpkins (farmer)
- Bob Carlson (surgeon)
- Ken Barrett (investor)
- Joe Drinon (stockbroker)
- Carl Sandquist (contractor)
- Lionel Atwill (writer)
- Bob Jones (writer)
Interesting facts about the first game:
1982: The birth of the paintball industry
The game’s founders called it National Survival Game, and it wasn’t until years later that it became known as paintball.
In October 1981, Bob Gurnsey published an article about their newly invented game, outlining how it could become a profitable business. He started selling a paintball package which included a paintball marker, paintballs, protective goggles, and a rule book for $150.
In March 1982, Bob started the first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire, National Survival Game, and sold Nelspot markers. He licensed the NSG franchise to others interested in opening paintball fields.
Jeff Perlmutter and David Freeman started the company Pursuit Marketing Incorporated (PMI). They contracted with Benjamin Sheridan to design and manufacture new paintball markers for their brand. PMI’s first paintball pistol was the PG pistol made of a brass body. The company also started manufacturing paintballs and distributed them to retailers and field owners.
As the game’s popularity grew, several fields opened across the United States.
1983: The first paintball championship
NSG organized the first-ever paintball championship in 1983, and the tournament reward was $3000 for the winning team from Ontario, Canada.
During these early paintball games, some players started modifying their markers, adding pump handles, barrel extensions, and bigger magazines, giving them an advantage.
As other players began voicing concern about the amateur modifications’ safety, the manufacturers innovated and improved their products, offering these modifications according to the market’s demand.
1984: New paintball markers
1984 was an excellent year for paintball development:
1985-1986: Industry growth
By 1985, paintball interest grew all across the globe as media spread awareness of the game. During these years, new equipment started developing:
1987-1988: The start of the golden age of paintball development
The industry grew by the day, and city dwellers became interested in the sport.
Dennis Tippmann Sr was in the business of making half-scale machine guns but had to close up shop as stricter firearm laws put him out of business. Dennis Tippmann changed his interest and focus toward paintball markers. With his experience and capital, he founded Tippmann Pneumatics to manufacture fully automatic paintball guns. Their first product was the Tippmann SMG-60, a .62-caliber paintball gun.
To make his model legal for paintball tournaments, Tippmann had to convert the full-auto SMG-60 model to a new semi-auto .68-caliber version. The company also introduced the first CO2 tank for paintball guns, a modified co2-tank from the Soda Company.
These new developments and rapid growth in interest attracted new investors to the industry.
1987-1998: More companies were founded
Check out our new article about the danger of paintball.
1989-1991: Speedball, Gravity Hoppers, and World Cup
In Sat Cong Village, the largest paintball park in Southern California, a new paintball field named “Speedball Arena” opened. The goal was to test new action-packed game types.
The first gravity hopper was invented in 1989 and allowed players to load larger ammunition pods.
Jim Lively arranged the first paintball world cup, which became the most anticipated paintball tournament in the world.
1990-1991: Spread of Paintball In Europe
Tippmann launched and mass-produced a .68-caliber paintball gun with a gravity hopper, quickly becoming the most popular paintball gun in the world.
Tom Kaye introduced the .68-caliber Auto-Mag, famous for its durability, appearance, and functions. The company later introduced an air-compressed paintball tank (NO2 tank) made from a fiberglass-wrapped pressure vessel. The new tank had better efficiency than CO2 tanks. Still, the product failed to become commercially adopted due to safety concerns.
Bud Orr introduced an auto-cocker kit that converts the WPG sniper II to a self-cocking semi-auto. WPG changed the sniper II to semi-auto by default and reached the market faster.
1992-1995: Semi-Autos became popular, and ESPN broadcasted the Paintball World Cup
Many things happened in these years:
- In 1992, PMI introduced the PMI-III semi-auto paintball gun. It was durable, mid-range priced, but very heavy. It still became a popular favorite.
- Benjamin Sheridan released a paintball marker, the VM-68.
- Viewloader introduced the VL-2000.
- Arthur Chang entered the industry to create the most affordable paintball guns. He founded the company Kingman International which released a pump marker called Hammer. They also introduced a lightweight and inexpensive semi-auto called Spyder, made from aluminum. Suddenly most players could afford a semi-auto.
- Dave Youngblood Enterprises (DYE) started making paintball parts and custom auto-cockers but later changed focus to high-quality paintball products.
- Paintball started getting popular on the web, and websites and discussion boards caused more interest.
- In 1995, ESPN broadcasted the paintball world cup on television. It was the first time a major TV channel broadcasted the sport.
1999-2000 Unregulated Paintball becomes part of ASTM
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) initiated actions to make paintball safer by establishing industry standards on fire rate, velocity, paintball goggles, and more.
Manufacturers could then sell equipment with an ASTM-approved tag.
In this period, the sporting goods manufacturer SGMA officially recognized paintball as an actual sport, and paintball equipment became affordable.
2001-2002: Barrel Plug Ban and World Cup Cheating
In 2001, NPL issued a notice to ban barrel plugs because it was difficult to see whether or not they were in use. Soon after, barrel covers were invented that were visible and durable, becoming the industry standard within a few months.
In the 2002 world cup, a person not participating in the match helped a team by hiding outside the field and eliminating opponents. The referees investigated the area and caught the cheater. It was the biggest cheating scandal in the history of the sport.
2000: New Licensing Laws for Paintball Companies
2010-2011: Changes in the industry
2013-2014: New 0.50-Caliber Paintballs
0.50-caliber paintballs were lower impact and encouraged more people to play paintball with their friends and families.
Many paintball fields offered you to rent equipment and gave discounts to students and large groups. Paintball venues arranged camping areas, bonfires, and resorts to provide their customers with a getaway experience or corporate team-building trip.
2015 until today
Paintball has grown into a sport with various types and scenarios. Professional players can make a full-time income from tournaments and sponsorships.
Manufacturers occasionally release new paintball equipment, and electric paintball guns and full-head coverage paintball helmets are becoming more popular.
The future of paintball
I think paintball will continue to grow in popularity as people want to experience a real-time simulated military experience. It is an excellent team-building activity and offers an alternative way of training law enforcement, military, and police. Every newbie should try paintballing to test their survival skills, but remember to take proper safety measures before playing.