When Was Paintball Invented? (Inventor and First Guns Use)

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Paintball’s history is anything but average. Parts of the game were invented before others, and the entire background to the game is the riddle of what came first - the chicken or the egg? So with that being said, when was paintball invented?

The very first game of paintball was played on June 7, 1981, in New Hampshire. The paintball gun, however, was invented two decades before the game itself and wasn’t originally designed for the game. 

The Paintball Gun

The paintball gun was actually invented decades before the game. 

The paintball gun was first invented in the 1960s by Charles Nelson of the Nelson Paint Company. It wasn’t a paintball back then, though, it was a paint marker that park rangers and cattle farmers used to mark trees and livestock. Hence, it was called a paint marker. 

To use in the paint marker, Nelson patented a small gelatin ball that was injected with paint. These balls of paint would explode upon impact. Sound familiar?

In 1972, Nelson tried to sell the marker, but it didn’t do very well. Not until he partnered with a company that manufactured BB guns! They marketed the paint marker as the famous Nel-Spot 007. 

The First Game

In May of 1981, two friends saw an ad for the Nel-Spot 007 in a catalogue. This started an argument; who was better at survival - city-folk or country-folk? 

Hayes Noel was the city folk. He worked as a Wall Street stock trader, and was a “workout freak”. He was super competitive in everything he did and was even a former college football star. 

Charles Gaines, on the other hand, was the epitome of country folk. He was an author and a full-on outdoorsman. He loved fishing, and canoeing, and using his muscles for more than just the gym. 

This led them to a debate. Which one of them would survive in the wilderness? This debate was brought up several times, both sides pitching their best case, but when Charles sent Hayes a forestry catalog, they decided to settle this argument once and for all. 

The very first game of paintball was played on June 27, 1981, in New Hampshire, USA. There were 6 city men and 6 countrymen that competed in a “capture the flag” format where they played until one team had captured all the flags. 

They were each given a Nel-Spot 007, eye protection, and a map to navigate the 100-acre playing field. 

original paintball gun
The original and now highly prized Nel-Spot 007 Image Credits here

It was actually a man named Ritchie White who won the game. He managed to creep through the forest, picked up four flags, and didn’t fire a single shot. It wasn’t that he didn’t take risks, he just completely avoided confrontation, and it worked!

If you want to read all about how an elk hunter, a Green Beret lieutenant, a surgeon, and a movie producer participated in this debate and even used a potato for a joke, check out this article with quotes from players.

Growing Popularity

One of the players, Bob Jones, wrote an article that was published in Sports Illustrated. As the article gained popularity, Bob Gurnsey, Hayes, and Charles saw a business opportunity selling starter kits for paintball games.

They included a marker, paintballs, goggles, and a rule book. It was first trademarked as the National Survival Game and Nelson Paint Company was contracted to supply all of the equipment. 

Bob Gurnsey opened the very first commercial field in 1982, and pretty soon after, National Survival Game Inc opened fields all throughout the states. 

Building off their success, the very first championship tournament was held in 1983. A Canadian team won the National Survival Game National Championship and they won a $3,000 cash prize. 

The following year paintball exploded nationally. National Survival Game started to be called paintball. New paintball products were started to be mass-produced.

The International Paintball Players Association was founded. There was no stopping the growth of this game. 

By 1989, an estimated 75,000 people played paintball in the US alone. 

Now there are televised paintball games, ESPN covers World Championship Games, and there are so many specialized paintball shops. And it all started with an argument. 

Do you want to be one of the 3.41 million people who paintball in the USA? Check out our complete beginner’s guide to get started!

Final Thoughts

The egg came before the chicken in this weird metaphor. It started with the equipment, which was used for something else entirely in the beginning. Then there was an argument between friends, and they created the chicke… game. 

Are you still wondering who won? Was it the competitive city folk who could pursue juries or perform highly skilled surgeries? Or was it the country folk who were trained army men or knew how to hold a gun?

It was the country folk! “Clearly the woods skills were the prevailing skills in the game.”

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