Williams initially was a manufacturer of pinball tables. In 1964 Williams was acquired by jukebox manufacturer Seeburg Corp. and reorganized as Williams Electronics Manufacturing Division. In 1973, they branched out into the coin-operated arcade video game market with their Pong clone Paddle Ball. In 1974, William Electronics Inc was incorporated in Delaware as a wholly-owned subsdiairy of Seeburg and replaced the previous entity. In 1987, Williams changed its parent name to WMS Industries, Inc. when it made its public offering. WMS is a shortening of Williams, which it also selected for its NYSE ticker symbol. In 1988, it acquired competitor Bally/Midway.
WMS entered the reel-spinning slot machine market in 1994, and in 1996, it introduced its first hit casino slot machine, Reel ‘em In, a "multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus" video slot machine. It followed this with a number of similar games like Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich. By 2001, it introduced its Monopoly-themed series of "participation" slots. WMS Gaming holds licenses to manufacture gaming machines using the following brands, among others: Men in Black, Match Game, Hollywood Squares, Clint Eastwood, the Powerball lottery, and Green Acres.
The company's sole operating business today is WMS Gaming formed in 1991. Fiscal year 2007 revenues were $540 million. The corporate office is in Waukegan, Illinois, and the primary development campus is in Chicago, Illinois. There are other development, sales and field services offices across the United States. The international development offices are in Uxbridge, England and Australia, and international sales are based in Barcelona, Spain.
A Stanford engineering graduate, Williams devised the “tilt” mechanism for pinball machines. The first known original amusement device made by Williams was an early-era pinball machine called Suspense in 1946. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Williams continued to make pinball machines and the occasional bat-and-ball game. In 1950, Williams produced Lucky Inning, their first pinball table to have its bottom flippers facing inward in the modern manner. In late 1958, Williams Manufacturing became known as Williams Electronic Manufacturing Company. In 1960, company founder Harry Williams designed his last pinball table as a full-time designer, the horse racing-themed Nags.
In 1962, 3 Coin became the first Williams table to sell over 1,000 units (1,100, specifically). One year later, Skill Pool sold 2,250 units. In 1964 Williams was purchased by the Seeburg Corporation. The 1966 pinball table A-Go-Go, with its avant-garde 60s theme, sold a staggering 5,100 units. Early Williams pinball tables often included innovative features and pinball firsts, such as mechanical reel scoring and the "add-a-ball" feature for locations that didn't allow game replays. By 1967, pinball was in the middle of its so-called "golden age", and the number of pinball units that sold began to increase dramatically. Popular Williams pinballs included Shangri-La (1967), Apollo (1967), Smart Set (1969), Gold Rush (1971), and Space Mission (1976).
In 1974, Williams Electronics, Inc. was formed to acquire the company. In 1980, Seeburg (which had since been renamed XCOR International) sold Williams to Louis Nicastro, who, with his son Neil, would take the company public and run it for over two decades.
At the same time, Williams would enter the era of solid-state electronic pinball and come to dominate the entire pinball industry. Williams' first solid-state machine was Hot Tip (1976), which had originally been released with electromechanical reel scoring. The updated machine outsold its predecessor by nearly four to one. As the 1970s became the 1980s, Williams would release numerous innovative pinball games, such as Firepower (1980), Black Knight (1980), Space Shuttle (1984), Comet (1985), Pin*Bot (1986), F-14 Tomcat (1987), and Cyclone (1988).
By 1983, the entire arcade amusement industry went into a major decline. In spite of this, Williams managed to weather the poor economic conditions better than most. In 1985, Williams once again changed its name, this time to Williams Electronics Games, Inc. Williams became a public traded company in 1987, and the parent company's name became WMS Industries, Inc.
In 1988, WMS acquired Bally Midway Manufacturing Company, which was the result of a 1981 merger between Bally's pinball division and video game company Midway. For over a decade, the company was known to the industry collectively as Williams-Bally-Midway. Williams would continue to manufacture pinball machines, while Midway would concentrate on video games (thus ending the Williams brand in video games) and pinball machines (under the Bally brand name). WMS also created a new division in 1991, Williams Gaming (now WMS Gaming), to enter the gaming and state video lottery markets, developing its first video lottery terminals for the Oregon market in 1992.
In 1992, the company produced the licensed Addams Family table (based on the movie of that era). Addams Family sold a record 20,270 units, which still stands to this day. In 1993, Midway produced Twilight Zone, which sold an impressive 15,235 units as well. But the writing was on the wall. After 1993, Williams never came close to matching the sales numbers of Addams Family or Twilight Zone. In 1999, Williams made one last attempt to revitalize pinball sales with its Pinball 2000 machines that integrated pinball with computer graphics on embedded raster-scan displays. The innovation didn't pay off, and that same year, WMS left the pinball industry to focus on slot machine development. The Williams brand has since disappeared. In late March 2005, Pinball News.com reported that WMS had exclusively licensed the intellectual properties and the rights to re-manufacture former Bally/Williams games in the field of mechanical pinball (including traditional pinball and Pinball 2000 style machines) to Wayne Gillard - Mr. Pinball Australia.
Williams was one of the major forces in arcade amusement history. During the "Golden Age" of pinball, Williams was one of the three major manufacturers (Bally and Gottlieb being the other two). For much of the later history of pinball, Williams simply dominated the industry even as pinball began to decline in popularity.
WMS entered the reel-spinning slot machine market in 1994, but the company’s video gaming roots ultimately would prove to be its strength when, in 1996, it introduced its first hit casino slot machine, Reel ‘em In, a "multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus" video slot machine. WMS followed this with a number of similar games like Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich. By 2001, it introduced its Monopoly-themed series of "participation" slots, which includes slot machines based on licensed themes such as "Clint Eastwood", "Powerball", "Green Acres" and "Dukes of Hazzard". WMS continues to produce video slots and, to a smaller extent, reel-spinning slots, for sale and for lease to casinos and state lotteries.