Paintball, a thrilling sport enjoyed by many, has a fascinating origin story. Let’s take a trip back to the 1960s when Charles Nelson of the Nelson Paint Company revolutionized the game by inventing the paintball marker, which we now know as the paintball gun. Surprisingly, the marker wasn’t initially created for paintball itself. Instead, it was designed as a more accurate and convenient method for park rangers and cattle farmers to mark trees and livestock from greater distances. Nelson’s ingenious invention included spray paint devices for agricultural use and gelatin paintballs filled with oil paint for marking.
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In 1972, the Nelson Paint Company attempted to sell their marker, the Crosman 707, but unfortunately, it didn’t succeed commercially. However, Nelson didn’t give up. He made a second attempt to market his marker and found success when Daisy, a renowned BB gun manufacturer, recognized its potential. They transformed the marker into the iconic Splotch Maker, or as it’s more commonly known, the Nel-Spot 007 marker.
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Inspired by the Nel-Spot 007 marker, 1981 marked the birth of the first official paintball game. Three friends, Bob Gurnsey, Hayes Noel, and Charles Gaines, were engaged in a friendly debate over who was better at survival: city dwellers or country folk. They stumbled upon an advertisement for Nelson’s marker and were inspired to settle their argument through a survival game using these markers. Bob Gurnsey penned the rules, and nine other players were invited to the inaugural paintball game held on June 7, 1981, in New Hampshire, USA.
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The first game followed a capture the flag format, with six woodsmen pitted against six city men, battling it out to collect all the flags without being eliminated. The winner would be crowned the ultimate survivor. Each player was equipped with Nel-Spot 007 markers, eye protection, and a map of the 100-acre wood playing field. Remarkably, forester Ritchie White emerged as the victor without even firing a single shot.
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One of the players, Bob Jones, wrote an article about the game for Sports Illustrated, generating significant interest in paintball. Gurnsey, Noel, and Gaines recognized the business potential and started selling starter kits for their game, complete with markers, paintballs, goggles, and a rulebook. They trademarked their creation as the National Survival Game and enlisted the Nelson Paint Company to supply their guns and equipment.
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As the National Survival Game gained popularity, Bob Gurnsey established the world’s first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire in 1982. The success of their franchise prompted the opening of paintball fields throughout the USA under the National Survival Game Inc. In 1983, Gurnsey hosted the inaugural major paintball tournament, the National Survival Game National Championship. The championship was won by a Canadian team called The Unknown Rebels, who took home a $3,000 prize.
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In the subsequent years, paintball experienced explosive growth worldwide. In 1984, the National Survival Game was rebranded as paintball, coinciding with the release of new paintball products, including the first mass-produced paintball gun and water-based paintballs. The first outdoor paintball field in England emerged in 1985, marking the global spread of paintball, with fields becoming smaller to accommodate faster-paced, action-packed games. In the late 1980s, the International Paintball Players Association was established as a non-profit organization to ensure the growth and safety of the sport, implementing a speed limit of 300 feet per second for paintball markers. By 1989, an estimated 75,000 people were playing paintball on weekends in the US alone.
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Throughout the 1990s, paintball’s popularity soared, firmly establishing it as a beloved sport worldwide. Paintball technology advanced, producing state-of-the-art equipment, such as high-quality Tippmann and Spyder guns, as well as the introduction of biodegradable, water-soluble, and non-toxic paintballs. Specialized paintball shops, playing fields, and manufacturers emerged, catering to the growing demand. In 1995, paintball made its television debut as ESPN aired the World Championship Games.
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Today, paintball has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry, offering a wide range of guns and gear, from masks to markers. There are diverse outdoor and indoor game zones, including forests and WWII scenario games, and various game formats, including capture the flag and elimination. Whether you’re seeking a competitive sport or engaging in team building activities, celebrating a birthday or stag party, paintball offers an exhilarating experience. Join in the fun today and become a part of the legendary and vibrant history of paintball.