Pinball Banned in New York
Yes, that was a real headline in many national papers in the US back in 1942.
It seems almost unbelievable that this would happen but it did. In fact most major American Cities did the same. The only one that didn’t was San Francisco. Even stranger, the ban remained legal until 1976.
This was a throwback to the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s. The Mayor of New York despised corruption in all forms and regarded pinball machines as instruments that corrupted the minds of the young. So he set about banning them completely. Grab and Smash squads were set up to seize and destroy any pinball machine that came to the notice of the authorities. The Mayor himself, Fiorello LaGuardia, was pictured enthusiastically wielding a sledge hammer into a pinball machine.
Pinball machines were just the thin end of the wedge for the religious, puritanical Mayor who came to office in 1934, remaining there for 12 years. He was popular among ordinary people as he relentlessly fought campaigns against crime and corruption, especially against the Mafia crime syndicates. In his organised war against corruption he also shut down brothels, rounded up slot machines, arrested gangsters on any charge he could find, and completely banned pinball, removing machines from arcades, hotels and private homes.
Smashed up pinball machines were apparently broken up, melted down and the metal put towards building equipment for use in World War 2.
The first full-fledged and highly publicized legal attack on pinball came on January 21st, 1942, when New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned pinball in the city, ordering the seizure of thousands of machines. The ban — which would remain in effect until 1976 — was the culmination of legal efforts which had started much earlier, and which could be found in municipal pockets all over the country. LaGuardia, however, was the first to get the job done on a large scale. A native New Yorker of half-Italian, half-Jewish ancestry, LaGuardia despised corruption in all forms, and the image of the stereotypical Italian gangster was one he resented. During his long, popular tenure as mayor of New York City, he shut down brothels, rounded up slot machines, arrested gangsters on any charge he could find, and he banned pinball. For the somewhat puritanical LaGuardia, pinball machine pushers were “slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery” and the game was part of a broader “craze” for gambling. He ordered the city’s police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its “top priority,” and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines. On the first day of the ban, the city police confiscated more than 2,000 pinball machines and issued nearly 1,500 summons. A New York Times article of January 23, 1942 informed readers that the “shiny trimmings of 2,000 machines” had been stripped and sent off to the country’s munitions factories to contribute to the war effort.