Did You Know Major American Cities Banned Pinball Machines Between 1940s And 1970s?

Just when you thought you knew all about American history. This one I did not know. Between the 1940s and right up to the 1970s, major American cities banned pinball machines.

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Their reasons were the fear of the popular pastimes negative effect on juvenile delinquency, morality and crime. Pinball gained popularity in the height of the Great Depression with the fist coin operated machine being produced in 1931. It quickly developed a negative reputation amongst the more conservative Americans and was considered a menace to society.

Early versions of the game were very different to how most of us picture pinball. It was only in 1947 that the flippers were introduced. Apart from tipping the machine it was pretty much up to the random bouncing of the ball. Pinball players effectively gambled on the machine and when the bounce went in their favour and they “won” the operators gave out prizes ranging from gum or free games up to chinaware and jewellery.

The authorities and civic groups initially turned a blind eye to the “gambling” aspect of pinball but many draconian churches and school boards of the time insisted the machines were corrupting the children of America, lowering their morals and even leading them to steal coins and skipping school to partake in pinball as well as causing them to go without food by throwing their money away on this evil pastime.

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Adding to the game’s negative image, the majority of the pinball machines at the time were coming out of Chicago, the centre of organized crime at the time. Pinball was seen as an extension of their nefarious dealings and was linked to many of the notorious crime gangs. New York City Mayor at the time, Fiorello LaGuardia also believed that pinball lead to juvenile delinquency and crime.

In his words the industry was raking in millions of dollars annually from the “pockets of school children in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money.” Pinball was driven underground. It was only in the 1970s, after a few changes in the game, including the introduction of the flipper, and perhaps a slight mellowing in public opinion, that pinball was finally accepted again.

In 1974 The California Supreme Court ruled that the new version of the game was more one of skill as opposed to chance and the prohibition was dropped.