Who Invented Paintball?

Paintball guns were originally used for other purposes

Paintball players in action
Peter Muller / Getty Images

It's become a popular sport played on indoor and outdoor fields around the world, but legend has it the game of paintball started as a bet between two bored guys trying to determine who was more macho.

According to The New York Times, sometime in the 1970s, Hayes Noel, a stockbroker, and Charles Gaines, a writer and sportsman, were debating which one of them had the sharper survival skills.

When a friend of Gaines showed him the Nelson Paint Company's paintball marker, he was intrigued. Intended for use by foresters to mark trees they intended to cut down, and by ranchers to mark cattle, Gaines and Noel decided to test out one of the guns, loaded with small oil paint-filled pellets, in a mock duel.

First Paintball Competition

Next, the two invited friends to join them in a game of capture the flag, where the objective was the same as with the childhood game: capture the other team's flag without being caught. But in this case, the team members had to avoid being shot by their opponents' paintballs.

The first game of paintball was played in Sutton, New Hampshire on June 27, 1981, by 12 men: Lionel Atwill, Ken Barrett, Bob Carlson, Joe Drindon, Jerome Gary, Bob Gurnsey, Bob Jones, Carl Sandquist, Ronnie Simkins, Richie White, Noel, and Gaines.

Richie White, a forester, was named the winner, which seemed to settle the original argument (about who would survive more easily) in Gaines' favor

The game caught public attention when Sports Illustrated wrote an article about this first paintball attempt. Gaines, Gurnsey, and Noel got the license from Nelson Paint Company to use the paintball guns for recreational purposes and started a company called National Survival Game.

History of the Paintball Marker

In the 1970s the U.S. Forestry Service asked the Nelson Paint Company to come up with a way for loggers and foresters to mark trees a significant distance away. The company had already come up with guns that squirted paint for this purpose, but they had limited range.

So Charles Nelson partnered with air gun manufacturer Daisy to make a device that would propel oil-based paint pellets a long distance. Daisy came up with a device it called the Splotchmaker, which Nelson marketed under the name Nel-Spot 007. It was this device that caught the attention of Noel and Gaines.

Paintball as a Worldwide Sport

Some newer versions of paintball pellets are water-based rather than oil-based, and new gun designs are created all the time.

Paintball in the modern era has evolved into a highly competitive sport that comes in many different forms, ranging from small groups of friends playing in the backyard to thousands of people reenacting the World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy to high-speed games played on ESPN.

Paintball today is a multi-million dollar industry with different types of guns and all manner of protective body gear, goggles, and masks available.