Paintbal FactX #1
(U.S. patent 3,788, 298 issued on January 29, 1974)
Long Before the First Game Was Played, the Nelspot Marker and the “Paint-Ball”* Were Invented
While the first game of paintball wasn’t played until 1981, 1970 was surely a year that was important in the history of the sport. That was the year the Nelspot, the first paintball marker was designed.
What was the first paintgun you ever played with? For many players it was a semiautomatic. For some it may have even been an electronic marker capable of firing 20-plus non-toxic, biodegradable balls per second. It wasn’t that easy for those that played in the early 1980s though.
The Nelson Paint Company, founded by Charlie Nelson in 1940, was approached by a northeast forestry group in the mid 1960s and asked to manufacture a paint-filled ball--one that could be shot from an air-powered marker for the purpose of marking hard-to-reach trees for excavation and other forestry uses. They eventually took on the project and manufactured a .68 caliber oil-based ball in conjunction with RP Scherer (Nelson made the paint and RP Scherer encapsulated it). The next challenge was to figure out how to fire these new paint-balls. Nelson then went to Crossman, one of the two biggest airgun manufacturers and the first paintgun, the Nelspot “707,” was designed and manufactured. Sales were slow for Crossman early on and they backed out of the deal. Nelson went to the other airgun giant, Daisy, who picked up where Crossman left off. Despite the folklore, the Nelspot “707” predated the Nelspot “007,” which became the model that inspired later markers the likes of the Bushmaster, Phantom, Razorback, and many others. After the success of the “007,” the “707” was re-released but never took off.
Like today’s paintball player, enthusiasts tinkered with, customized, and tweaked their markers trying to get that extra edge on the field, even in the 1980s. Players made extended magazines for the Nelspot; they added ball drops, and one player even designed his own pump handle from PVC in 1983. Ken Muffler of the Delaware Delta Dogs spent five days designing and incorporating a pump-handle on his Nelspot and played four games with hits newly upgraded gun on November 20, 1983. Later, in the 1984 regional Survival Game tournament playoffs, a team the Dogs were playing protested the enhanced Nelspot claiming it gave his team an unfair advantage.
"I still have scars from the cocking bolt on my Nelspot. I couldn’t take it anymore so I finally designed a cardboard pump-handle for my Nelspot. Before long I was making pumps for everyone on the team." --Bill Churchwell, member of the NSG Championship LRRPS and owner of Tech-na Ball, one of the leaders in paintgun upgrading in the mid-to-late 1980s.
*The term “paintball” had not yet been coined at this point in time. The most common spelling of the word was a hyphenated “paint-ball.” The terms used to describe the game in the early stages were “The Survival Game,” war-games or skirmish.