Thursday, April 10, 2014

About the mill and the arcade game industry

"That the Money of Account, to correspond with the division of coins, .. 
proceed in a decimal ratio, agreeably to the forms and manner following, viz.
  • Mills: The lowest money of accompt, of which one thousand shall be equal to the federal dollar, or money unit __ 0.001
  • Cents: The highest copper piece, of which one hundred shall be equal to the dollar __ 0.010
  • Dimes: The lowest silver coin, ten of which shall be equal to the dollar ... 0.100
  • Dollar: The highest silver coin __ 1.000 "
Source : Journals of the Continental Congress, Tuesday August 8, 1786

The US mill currency
The term mill was used for the first time by the Continental Congress in 1786, only 10 years after the country's Declaration of Independence. One mill represented 1⁄1,000 of a dollar or 0.1¢. As such, the mill - also written as mil - was never released as an official coin or note. 

During the 1930s, the Great Depression period, some cities and a number of American states introduced sales tax tokens, expressed in cents but also in mills. Most of these tokens were produced in denominations for one mill, one and a half mills, two mills and five mills. They were struck in aluminium, brass, copper, zinc, pewter or produced from plastic, wood and even cardboard. After the 1960s virtually none were made anymore.

Missouri sales tax token 5 Mills, Zinc
Missouri 5 mills sales tax token in zinc
Notice the map of Missouri in the design

It is interesting to know how these tokens were used. Shopkeepers and merchants had to pay sales taxes to the state on the sales amount realized in a day. On small sums, e.g. a 10c purchase for a chocolate bar, it was difficult to tax the shopper a percentage of the sales price as there were no coins for such small amounts. Sales tax tokens form the solution. Now, the merchant gave back change in mill tokens and the shopper could pay its next purchase with regular coins and taxes with tokens. This enabled the shopkeeper to collect taxes on each transaction.

No banknotes, no coins, but scripophily !
No official banknotes nor coins have been issued in the mill currency unit. But apparently there are such stock certificates. American stock certificates often mention the official par value, the initial selling price of a single share of stock. One can find certificates of $100 par value, $1 par value, 1ct par value, and in other combinations as well. Lots of companies issued stock mentioning a par value of $.001, the equivalent of a mil. Yet, very few securities actually mention the mil denomination. Here is an example from the Game-A-Tron Corporation, a producer of computer-controlled arcade games.

detail from a Game-A-Tron stock certificate stating the ownership of
shares of One half (1/2) mil Par Value Capital Stock
double-click image to enlarge

The arcade game industry
Early mechanical arcade games were already installed in the 1920s in public places like bars and amusement parks. Fortune telling and pinball machines are examples of these coin-operated entertainment machines. In the 1960s new types of electro-mechanical arcade games were introduced such as Sega's Periscope : a submarine simulator and light gun shooter, see here. By the 1970s a video terminal was introduced in the concept. In 1972 Atari releases Pong, see there, a two-dimensional table tennis video game and became the first commercially successful video game.

arcade game
Photo of hybrid arcade game Galaga and Ms. Pac Man machine
Source: Brian Katt at the English language Wikipedia

These early arcade machines were designed around discrete logic circuits comprising each element of the game itself. These so-called "finite-state machines" perform a predetermined sequence of actions depending on a sequence of events with which they are presented. Some of these arcade games became extremely popular. In 1978 the Japanese Taito Corporation launched Space Invaders. The game caused a national shortage of 100 yen coins in Japan, leading to a production increase of coins to meet demand for the game. 

share certificate of the Game-A-Tron Corporation
Game-A-Tron Corporation
Shares of 1/2 mil par value, 1981
double-click to enlarge image

Game-A-Tron uses microprocessors in its products
The next generation of arcade games used system boards with a microprocessor. The game program code was stored in ROM chips mounted on the main board. Game-A-Tron (GAT) was incorporated in Delaware on Sept 18, 1978. In the early 1980s GAT designed and produced a number of arcade games such as Black Hole, Thorobred Derby and Computer-Poker with a computer simulating a live dealer. Some of these, like Got-Ya were "programmable" for the owner by means of DIP switches for activating settings like game difficulty, extra bonus points, number of players and a game test pattern.  Other games developed by GAT were Cosmikaze, Face Up 21, Space Bugger, Black Jack and Acey Deucy. Interesting, the latter one rings a "bell". Some of GAT's products were licensed to the Bally Midway company.

GAT company logo of Game-A-Tron Corporation

Software becomes important .. at home
Later arcade system boards separated the system board from the game program itself, akin to a home video game console and cartridge, CD/DVD or Hard Disk. The owner could now switch out the games at a fraction of the price and with less effort, and the manufacturers could produce fewer of the costly system boards and more of the less-costly games. With the rise of personal computers and home video game consoles the golden age of arcade video games came to an end. 

I'm convinced that the delegates of the US Continental Congresses realized they were writing history for their country by stipulating the first American money denominations, but I doubt it that they were thinking about making it to a scripophily blog.


Related links

Thanks to the experts on LinkedIn's Scripophily group on the mill topic.


  1. Good article Franky. I remember the plastic mils in red, blue and green. I don't remember the value that the color represented. That was many years ago.


    1. Thank you Pete. We didn't have such tokens over here, but as a kid, I do remember those arcade games at the fair. My favorite was a WWI airplane shooter game : an electro-mechanical machine with a small rod guiding a small biplane. I forgot its name.