Punchboards originated in the 18th century. Tavern owners drilled holes into wooden game boards and placed numbered, paper tickets into the slots. These holes were then covered with paper. A patron would buy one of the holes and puncture the paper to reveal a possible prize.
In the late 1800s, cardboard punchboards were introduced. These new punchboards, sold with a metal punch stylus, became popular at drugstores. It is estimated that 30 million punchboards were sold between 1910 to 1915 and 50 million punchboards were sold in 1939 during the peak of their popularity.
After World War II punchboards declined in popularity and many states outlawed this form of gambling. Many manufacturers attempted to disguise the gambling nature of the boards by stating that prizes were “for trade only” and not redeemable for cash. Cigarette, cigar, and beer companies used punchboards as an advertising medium, featuring their products as prizes instead of cash.
Over time crooked vendors “fixed” punchboards and sold the answer keys to mobsters or patrons who would split the prizes. Infamous night club owner, Jack Ruby, was known for selling punchboards.
Eventually gambling punchboards evolved into the scratch-off lottery tickets in use today.
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