Today in 1942, the city of New York decided to take on, and take out, the scourge of the time, the invention that had been the ruin of so many people… pinball.
It may sound strange in our time that the pretty harmless pastime that is pinball was once the target of the biggest city in the country, so let’s explain.
Pinball began in the late 19th century as a mechanical version of a tabletop game.
The first coin-operated pinball machine debuted in 1931; pinball was an economic success story even during the Great Depression, when so many other industries were faltering.
Back then, there were no flippers, so players would use the plunger to launch the ball.
The rest was up to the machine.
And so gamblers started placing bets on where the ball would go, and, often, pinball operators would hand out prizes.
Law enforcement noted that most pinball machines were being manufactured in Chicago, where organized crime was a big problem.
Parents worried that their kids were being lured into delinquency when they put their nickels and dimes into pinball machines.
One of the loudest voices in that public outcry was New York City’s mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.
When the city council voted in 1942 to ban pinball, he sent police to not only confiscate thousands of machines all over the city, but to smash them to bits with sledgehammers, ideally in front of newspaper photographers.
Other cities passed their own bans, and some of them lasted until the 1970s.
That’s when a pinball wizard, Roger Sharpe, demonstrated in front of the New York council the skill of the game.
He showed them he could call a shot and then make it.
That was enough to end the ban, but soon pinball would have a challenge of a different kind: video games.
If pinball is still too wild for your tastes, how about flying kites?
This weekend in Minneapolis, it’s the Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival (weather permitting, of course).
The idea is that if you’re going to be in Minnesota in the cold of winter, you might as well get to see some colorful kites in the sky while you’re at it.
That Time America Outlawed Pinball (History.com)
The War On Pinball (Slate)