UNION, NJ -- An industry legend and table shuffleboard pioneer has died at the age of 103.
Sol Lipkin entered the amusement trade in the mid-1930s when he joined the National Shuffleboard Co. as a salesman. That job kicked off the remarkable career of the world's best-known table shuffleboard promoter. It spanned eight decades, briefly interrupted by World War II during which Lipkin joined the Construction Battalions of the U.S. Navy. After his duty, he returned to shuffleboard and in 1951 joined American Shuffleboard (later American International Shuffleboard Corp.), the Union, NJ-based company for which he became recognized. In the 1950s, he traveled throughout the country setting up distributorships.
Lipkin died on Jan. 21 in Union, NJ, where he lived for 61 years.
The industry pioneer was introduced to shuffleboard in a church basement, and he used to remind industry members that hotels catering to the wealthy and churches were once among the few places that offered shuffleboard. Popular on the East Coast in the late 19th century, custom tables from furniture makers like Duncan Phyfe were purchased by wealthy New York families. It was not until the early 1930s that commercial tables began to make their way into public taverns, where they were used, along with 5¢ beer and free food, to attract customers during the Depression. A small down payment and smaller weekly payments enabled tavern owners to finance the equipment. Lipkin made many of those deals.
Before and after the war, Lipkin was best known as a promoter of the sport. A famous tournament he staged in Illinois in 1950 involved 574 teams from 14 states. It was held in an armory, started on a Friday at 4 p.m., ended on Sunday at 4 p.m., and awarded $2,500 to the top eight teams and a new table to the tavern owner who sponsored the winning team. So popular was this tournament, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, who was a Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and '56, wrote a letter to the "godfather of shuffleboard" expressing his regrets that gubernatorial duties prevented him from attending the big tournament.
While many promotions took place in taverns, Lipkin also took the game to universities, military bases, churches, clubs and Salvation Army centers, among many other institutions. He continued to support the game he loved in the new millennium, bringing shuffleboard to Dave & Buster's entertainment and restaurant chain. He would attend new store openings where he greeted customers and played shuffleboard with them.
Lipkin's shuffleboard calling also led him to some unusual places. In 1958, a George Washington class ballistic missile submarine was laid down at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA, and in 1961 was commissioned as the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt by the U.S. Navy. The submarine's chaplain asked Lipkin, who was the working for American Shuffleboard, to help install a table game onboard. It would be used as a competitive diversion for crewmen on long underwater missions. The outfitted table had its legs shortened so it could be installed on the steel structure of ship's torpedo rack, which lifts up and down. Lipkin later helped organize first shuffleboard tournament played in the torpedo room.
See submarine photo archive.
Lipkin was inducted into the National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame on his 90th birthday in May 1996. He was the first to receive the game's highest honor. In 1987, he was presented with a "pioneer award" from Bill Moore of Texas, another shuffleboard pioneer, and in 1992 he received Shuffleboard Federation's Lifetime Achievement Award. The federation also established the Sol Lipkin Award, which recognizes individuals who have made considerable contributions to shuffleboard. Actively involved in shuffleboard league organization, Lipkin helped write the American Shuffleboard Rule Book, one of the most widely referenced rulebooks today.
Lipkin is survived by son Bruce, and his wife Adrian; son Eugene, and his daughter Dorothy Hecklau; grandchildren Eric Lipkin, Nicole and Thomas Szarszewski, and Debbie, Susan, Jeff and Billy; and great-grandchildren Jake, Ava and Alyssa. He outlived two wives, Dorothy (nee Hammond) and Margaret (nee McGee), and was predeceased by brothers Paul, Dave and Ike Lipkin, and sister Lil Gilzenberg.
Services are scheduled for Jan. 27 at the Menorah Chapels at Millburn in Vauxhall, NJ.