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History of Operation (Game): 20 Facts & Events (Inventor, Origins,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Operation is a game most parents will remember from their childhoods! It’s a battery-operated game that’s aimed at children 6+. The game requires physical skill and is known to develop fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. 

Kids get to operate on Cavity Sam, who seems to be feeling a bit under the weather. Twelve funny ailments can be operated on, and if the doctor in play is successful, they avoid the “buzz” and get to collect money, putting them in the lead. Sounds fun, right? Because it is! But where did this game come from, and what historical events surround it?

The prototype of Operation hit the market in 1964 and was the brainchild of John Spinello, an industrial design student at the University of Illinois. On graduating, Spinello sold his game rights to Marvin Glass (a renowned toy designer) for just $500. And this is just the start of the historical events and facts surrounding the game!

The Operation game isn’t just fun; its background is interesting too! So, if you’re an Operation enthusiast or want to expose your children to the game after getting to know a little more about it, you’re in luck! Below are some of the most interesting historical events and facts about Operation.

1. John Spinello Created Operation in 1964

John Spinello was studying industrial design at the University of Illinois in 1962. As a class assignment, he was tasked with designing a toy. John’s toy was awarded the highest grade in the class and was a box-shaped feature that involved electrics. 

2. The Rights to Operation Were Sold to Marvin Glass

 Most people don’t know this, but John’s godfather worked at Marvin Glass. When he saw the game, he thought it had potential and brought him to the company’s owner. Initially, Marvin Glass had no interest, but after trying the game and experiencing the exhilaration, an offer to buy the game’s rights for $500 was extended, along with the promise of a job at the company. The job never materialized.

3. Marvin Glass Got a Patent for the Game on 1 August 1967 

In February of 1965, Marvin Glass applied for a patent for a “game utilizing an electric probe,” granted on 1 August 1967 with the following patent number: 3,333,846. 

4. Cavity Sam Was Not Part of the Original Design

The original design was metal, with holes and skew lines drilled through the top. There was a metal rod included. Players must be steady to insert the rod in the openings without touching the sides. If it touched, a circuit would be formed, and the bell would be set off.

5. In 1965, Operation Was Produced By Milton Bradley

The license to produce Operation was acquired by Milton Bradley in 1965. 

6. Milton Bradley Retained the Game Concept But Changed Everything Else

The initial version of the game was “Death Valley,” where players had to search for water while exploring the desert. When Milton Bradley produced the game, it went from Death Valley and the desert to Operation and the hospital operating room.

7. Cavity Sam Was Introduced and Has an Interesting Name History

SAM stands for Systolic Anterior Motion. 

8. Early Versions of the Game Included a Light Bulb and Buzzer

Milton Bradly replaced the probe with tweezers and replaced the light bulb and buzzer with a bell. These updates make the game more what we know it to be today.

9. In 1984, Operation Became Part of Hasbro

That year Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley, and with that, it got the rights to the game Operation.

10. On the 40th Anniversary of Operation, New Ailments Were Added

In 2004, America voted to add a new affliction to Cavity Sam: Brain freeze! Brain freeze won the winning vote against other suggestions such as “growling stomach” and “tennis elbow.” 

The addition was made national knowledge when it was mentioned in the Scrubs comedy series on NBC television. The TV doctors play the latest version of Operation in the episode in question. Naturally, this sparked a newfound interest in the game. 

11. In 2007, the Rescue Kit Version of Operation Hits the Market

This version challenges players to solve new ailments and gives budding young surgeons more time to keep operating using the Oxygen Pump feature. The Rescue Kit version is considered to be a bit more upbeat version of the game and has been very popular since its introduction. 

12. In 2008, Cavity Sam Becomes More Interactive and Engaging

The game’s new format included funnier yet embarrassing ailment parts that are slippery, squishy, shiny, and stretchy. The sensory element of this makes the game more engaging and interactive.  

13. First Major Update to Operation Was in 2009

The update was called Operation Sound FX, which removed the buzzer and cards and included a speaker. The ailment could then be called out with a cue, such as a twang sound for a rubber band and a busy tone for a cell phone.

14. Players Can Play Operation Online or on Mobile

This has increased the number of people playing Operation in modern times exponentially. Whether it’s a blast from the past or parents trying to get their kids to give the game a chance – Operation game on mobile is growing in popularity each year.

15. Hasbro’s Variations of Operation

Hasbro has released many variations and spin-offs of Operation since acquiring it. These spin-offs have kept the game relevant. 

16. In 2019, John Spinello is the Subject of a Documentary

In the documentary, John tells interviewers that the game was inspired by a childhood experience where he inserted a pin into a light socket and got shocked.

17. After the Documentary, John Requires Medical Care

The documentary, called “Operation: The Power of Play,” brought attention to the fact that John required medical care, forcing him to sell his home. People learning of his plight stepped forward and donated to the cost of his rising medical bills.

18. Many Millions of Copies of Operation Have Been Sold

Dozens of millions of Operation copies have been sold! This is an astounding fact when you consider the creator of the game sold his rights for just $500 and never got the job he was promised as part of the deal.

19. In 2020, A New Version of the Game Was Published 

Operation Pet Scan is a variation where players remove objects from a dog’s digestive tract. This variation of the game is wildly popular, especially among children who are animal lovers. Here, Cavity Sam’s dog, Rex-Ray, eats a few things he shouldn’t, and then they need to be retrieved. 

The Dog-o-scope is used to remove unwanted objects from the dog’s belly. If players remove items successfully, the dog will fart or bark, indicating his relief and your success. 

20. Marvel and Nickelodeon Feature Versions of Operation

Licensed games off Marvel and Nickelodeon include Hulk Edition, SpongeBob Square Pants Edition, and Spider-Man Edition.

In Closing

Operation is a game that brings back fond memories for adults who were kids or teens in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The fact that the game has made a comeback over the years and is still played today makes it an outstanding game concept. 

With fun for the whole family (2-4 players) and with the average game requiring only 20 minutes (no long-term commitment like some other games), getting your hands on a copy of Operation will prove rewarding. 

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.