Causing Juvenile Delinquency? When Pinball Was Illegal in Michigan
As a kid – oh heck, even as an adult – I played pinball. What’s not to like about it? Here in Michigan I’d go to arcades until 2am playing the games.
Before video gaming took over those little metal balls that you launched with a spring handle, pinball machines were a huge rage all over the country, beginning in the 1930s. It was so much fun and enjoyed by so many people that it was only a matter of time before someone attempted to ruin it for everybody.
How? By claiming it created illegal gambling, and worst of all, by causing juvenile delinquency. Gosh, doesn’t everything? The earliest pinball games did not have flippers, so you had to hope the ball would go where you wanted it to, all on its own with no help from you. During the 1930s gambling on the outcome of a pinball game became commonplace, mostly by adult men.
Then, to add to the gambling aspect, it was brought up – usually in town/church/school meetings - that playing pinball “corrupted the morals of America’s children by encouraging them to steal coins, skip school in order to play and even go hungry by wasting their money on the frivolous pursuit.”
Noting that the majority of pinball machines were manufactured in Chicago, it didn’t take long for someone to point out that Chicago was home to the most notorious gangs and mobsters. “Yeah, it was probably those guys trying to corrupt our kids! Yeah! That’s the ticket!”
During World War II, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia stated that these pinball machines should be destroyed and the aluminum, copper, and other metal parts used for the war effort – to make ammo and weapons. He was quoted that it is “infinitely preferable that the metal in these evil contraptions be manufactured into arms and bullets which can be used to destroy our foreign enemies."
In January 1942, anyplace that had a pinball machine – bars, bowling alleys, candy stores, amusement parks, etc. – were raided and pinball machines were confiscated, many being demolished with sledgehammers as if they were illegal stills. The same thing happened in Detroit and other parts of Michigan.
More and more cities throughout the country began making pinball illegal, and inevitably it went underground in its own form of prohibition, where people could play in hopes of not getting caught.
The pinball flippers came about in 1947 but that didn’t do much to stop the ban, even though some cities did bring it back. Pinball was seen throughout the 1950s in bars, soda shops and teen hangouts, but it was still illegal in many parts of the country.
It wasn’t until the 1970s when pinball once again became acceptable for the rest of the country. Detroit lifted their pinball ban in 1972 and the California Supreme Court followed suit in Los Angeles in 1974, with more and more places allowing it to come back. Pinball was back, better than ever, with more games, more lights, more bells, more sound effects, and a new thing called “Pong”, the first video game.
And from then on, all hell broke loose…..
When Pinball Was Illegal in Michigan