The Magic 8-Ball was inspired by fake seances. Mary Carter, a phony fortune teller, created a spirit writing device. Using a slate enclosed in a box, Carter could secretly write and pretend the spirits were communicating with the device. Her son, Alfred Carter, was amazed by the invention but wanted to make a device that required no skill to use.
Alfred Carter created a device he called the Syco-Seer in 1944. The device was a tube divided in half. Each half was filled with a dark liquid and had a die with answers printed on each side. Each end of the tube would reveal different answers when asked a question.
Carter showed his idea to a local merchant in Cincinnati. The merchant wanted to sell the Syco-Seer in his store and distribute the product. Carter asked Abe Bookman, a relative for help with the creation and distribution of the product. They formed Alabe Crafts to produce and market the product. The product name was changed to Syco-Slate: The Pocket Fortune-Teller. In order to generate interest, women dressed like gypsies demonstrated the invention in department stores.
Alfred Carter applied for a patent for his device on September 23, 1944. He was granted US Patent 2,452,730 on November 2, 1948 for a Liquid Filled Dice Agitator. Carter assigned this patent to four other people including Abe Bookman.
No one is sure quite what happened to Alfred Carter. He either passed away or his alcoholism led him to leave the company to Abe Bookman. Bookman continued to distribute the product and make improvements. He changed the product from a tube to a crystal ball. This change did not help sales but it did get the ball recognized by Brunswick Billiards. In 1950, Brunswick Billiards approached Bookman to produce a promotional ball shaped like a billiards 8 ball. These promotional pieces were extremely popular.
When Brunswick’s contract was up, Bookman began selling the new Magic 8 ball to the general population. At first this new product was sold as a paperweight but then when the focus became more as a toy for kids, popularity increased.
Today, Mattel the Magic 8 Balls is manufactured by Mattel. About one million of the product, which is now considered a toy, are sold each year.