From 1940 to 1976, the beloved arcade game of pinball was illegal in New York City. That may seem utterly absurd 40 years after the fact, but the Big Apple’s former mayor, diminutive tough guy Fiorello H. La Guardia, had a darned good reason for criminalizing “that silver ball” at the time of FDR. A brief but informative new video from Great Big Story called “Pinball’s Punishable Past” explains all about it. When La Guardia became New York’s mayor in 1933, cracking down on the mafia was at the top of his agenda. As it happened, the mob happened to own a lot of the pinball machines in town, so the seemingly innocent game found itself reclassified as an illegal form of gambling. Did that snuff out pinball entirely? No, the game merely took refuge in “seedy parlors and seedier strip clubs.” It was essentially pinball prohibition.

The public wasn’t originally on La Guardia’s side when it came to this anti-pinball crusade, the video explains, but that all changed in 1941 when the United States entered World War II. The government wanted scrap metal it could put towards building the instruments of war, and La Guardia could think of no better source than those hated pinball games. Even when the war ended, pinball machines remained illegal in New York for three more decades. Eventually, it was declared a game of skill and legalized. But the ban had lasted 36 years, meaning that when Ken Russell turned The Who’s Tommy into a film in 1975, the deaf, dumb, and blind kid portrayed by Roger Daltrey would have been committing a crime (at least by NYC’s standards) every time he put a coin into one of those dastardly machines.


[via Laughing Squid]