The Elusive Claw Crane

Throughout time and arcade history, a mainstay on the floor has been the “claw game” or “crane game” or “claw crane” … take your pick. The gist of the game is that you control your claw from the outside of a glass box over a desired object, such as extra tickets or stuffed animals. The control mechanics are simple: you have a joystick and a button. Once your claw is in your chosen position, you press the button and release the claw to (hopefully) grasp whatever item is below it. Therein lies the beauty: will you or won’t you win the prize?

Claw machines have been around fun houses, arcades, drugstores, and tourist areas since the 1890s. Patterned after the cranes that were building the Panama Canal, these early machines contained candy and various small toys as prizes. Instead of a joystick, there was a handle, and instead of a button, there was a hand crank. The first patented model was invented in 1926. It was called the Erie Digger, named after the construction of the Erie Canal. Six years later, an American carnival operator named William Bartlett patented a design for an electric motor that allowed the crane to move around the entire box.