America has a long history of concerns about the corruption of youth (a concern that today seems greatly diminished but by no means absent). The anti-comic book crusade of Dr. Wertham and others that ultimately led to the creation of the Comic Code is one example of such a concern but it is by no means the only one. Another object of worry was the pinball machine. Pinball was not a harmless way to pass the time, at least not to the cultural powers of the day. It was, gasp, a form of gambling. Not only could you win free games, but winning clearly depended on nothing more than luck. So concerned were communities of the day that pinball machines were banned in many places across the country, including New York City.
I do not see how anyone can doubt the testimony of former major La Guardia about the dangers of pinball. I mean after all they named an airport after him! But if the reader still doubts the evil nature that pinball represented than I will appeal to even higher authorities, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. They present their case through the mouth of a soda shop owner when a gang brings one of the machines into his store:
I said get that infernal thing out of my store! There’s a school across the street … I won’t have those kids losing their lunch money!!
Unfortunately the owner’s arguments are overruled by a thug’s fist. Simon and Kirby show that the gang is not limited to pushing pinball machines but they are also involved in running a gambling house. When the public objects to all the gambling a detective uses the pinball connection to trace the gang to their bigger operations. Thus Joe and Jack show us that the danger of pinball goes beyond the corruption of youth.
There is irony in Simon and Kirby’s voicing their concerns about pinball at the same time that many in the public were complaining about the danger comic books, and in particular crime comics, presented to the nation’s youth. Did they really see pinball as a corruptive danger? Or were they just trying to divert attention away from comic books?
Pinball games continued in spite of the ban imposed by many communities. New York lifted its pinball ban in 1976. The City Council did so largely because Roger Sharpe demonstrated that pinball required skill, not luck. He proved this playing a game where he announced that he would land the ball in the middle lane and proceeding to do just that. After that pinball flourished in New York. The pinball industry did quite well at the time driven by the digital age. But in the end home computers and video games brought about a severe decline in the pinball industry. I have not been able to find any company that is currently making pinball machines. With no more pinball games I guess we can say that they no longer present a danger to today’s youth.