This morning I was watching Looney Tunes, and
there was this one called "Hobo Bobo." It made me wonder
about the origin of the Magic 8 Ball.
It starts out with a forest scene, apparently in India. A narrator
starts to tell us a story about elephants:
In India, the elephant's tremendous strength has been harnessed for
many labors. Sort of skin-covered jeeps. Although they work for
peanuts, they never complain. Well, almost never.
And here we are introduced to our cranky protagonist.
Now once there was a little elephant, Bobo by name, who was very
discontented with his lot. Bobo, because he was little, was given
little logs to carry. But he knew as he got bigger and bigger, he
would be given bigger and bigger logs. To Bobo, his future looked
Bobo walks past a crystal ball sitting on a little wooden stand
carved in the shape of an elephant. He stops and looks into it, and
the narrator says:
Oh, much darker than that.
The crystal ball turns into an 8 ball.
There, that's more like it.
It's a visual pun. Bobo, from our vantage point, is sitting behind
the eight ball. Exactly where you don't want to be.
This conflation of crystal ball and eight ball made me wonder if
this cartoon had given someone the idea for making the oracle that
we call the Magic 8 Ball. Or maybe the cartoon, as Looney Tunes often
did, was just making a cheeky little reference to a cultural
phenomenon of the times.
The Big Cartoon Database says that "Hobo Bobo" was
originally released by Warner Brothers on May 17, 1947. The Magic
8 Ball is said to have been invented by Abe Bookman of the Alabe
Crafts Company in Cincinnati. Some sources say that he invented it
in 1946. Others just say that it happened "in the late
So, are the two related? Signs point to yes. Which came first?
The Magic 8 Ball says "Better not tell you now."
(If I ever find out, I'll let you know.)