Who invented the game of paintball?
A brief guide to the history of paintballing
1. Ever wondered why paintball professionals say ‘paintball marker’ rather than ‘paintball gun’? It’s because the original paintball marker was actually used to mark trees or cattle. In the mid sixties, Charles Nelson is asked to design a device that will help foresters mark trees from a distance. What he invented was the original paintball marker and paintball, but it was designed to hit trees rather than people. Rather than mark each tree by hand, foresters could now mark trees from a distance.
2. We still use the term today rather than the phrase ‘paintball gun’ which has a more militaristic feel.
3. Ranchers also started to use the paintball marker to mark cattle that were in heat (ouch!) Some people say that these ranchers and farmhands played the first games of paintball among themselves, but there is no documented evidence to support this idea.
4. Nelson’s paintball marker, called the Crosman 707, was a commercial failure. But he was bright enough to realise that he might have more success if he sold his paintball marker as a toy, rather than a tool. At the time, BB guns were popular, especially the iconic ‘Red Ryder’ that was made by Daisy. Nelson takes his plans to Daisy and they agree to make the Nel-Spot 007 paintball marker in 1972.
5. For almost the next ten years, we have paintball markers and paintballs, but not the game of paintball as we know it. This all changes when Bob Gurnsey and his friends set out to settle an old dispute — could an amateur survive in combat against a trained hunter or woodsman? When they see the Nel-Spot 007 in a catalogue, they decide that they can finally end their long-standing argument.
6. In 1981, Bob Gurnsey and eleven companions play the first recorded game of paintball. To test their theory, they invite six woodsman and six ‘city boys’ to the competition. Bob Gurnsey writes up the rules to a capture the flag style game where the first player to collect five flags would be declared the winner. They played on an enormous cross-country ski area as the snow had already melted for the year. To stop the city boys from becoming lost, they are equipped with maps and whistles.
7. Any player who was hit even once would be immediately eliminated. The Nel-Spot could fire just one shot before it needed to be reloaded, leading to tense stand-offs. Some players even threw their paintball rather than risk being hit while reloading. In the end, Ritchie White emerges victorious. He didn’t fire a single shot, but instead stealthily collected five flags to win the game. The game becomes famous after one of the participants, Bob Jones, does a write up of the game for Sports Illustrated.
8. A year later, Bob Gurnsey opens the world’s first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire.
10. Twenty-two years after the world’s first game of paintball, Justin Toohig founds UKPaintball in England, bringing affordable paintball to a whole new generation of players. UKPaintball remains an industry leader with 75 premier paintballing sites in the UK.