It is 1931, and colossal events are changing the face of the United States. Catastrophic drought and dust storms are ushering in the Dust Bowl; the Great Depression is rearing its horrific head; Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff are terrifying an entire nation from movie screens everywere as Dracula and Frankenstein; Sci-fi icons William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy both enter the world - mere twinkles in soon-to-be-Trekkies' eyes...
|Karloff and Lugosi|
|Nimoy and Shatner|
And yet, even as the world quakes with these epic developments, from small cigar shops, bowling alleys and back-room gaming parlors comes a sound...
The populace is playing a shiny, new game.
|Balyhoo, the first pinball machine produced in the U.S.|
Law enforcement looked the other way (and played fervently) until New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia stepped in and made the “insidious nickel-stealers” his target, citing the games as a waste of time and materials during wartime (copper, aluminum and nickel would be put to better use as bullets). On January 21,1942, at his command, NYC police squads began their raids, confiscating over 2,000 machines, smashing them to bits with sledgehammers, and dumping them ceremoniously into the Hudson River.
|One of LaGuardia's publicity stunt videos for the raids|
It took them a while to respond, however. Even by 1969, when The Who produced their rock opera album Tommy, featuring its Pinball Wizard, the "deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball," it was still considered an act of wild rebellion.
Finally, in 1976, the Amusement and Music Operators Association recruited journalist Roger Sharpe, one of the top players in the country, to show elected NYC officials and media members that the now-flippered game was, without a doubt, a game of true skill.
Roger Sharpe on the famous day in pinball history, surrounded by reporters
In honor of this famous moment, we Lab folk are all about to head out to play all the pinball we can fit into one lunch hour...right outside our Lab door, in Chabot's new Art and Science of Pinball exhibit. All you pinheads* out there should come on up and join us.
*pinhead: term of endearment (at least how we mean it), indicating a pinball enthusiast.
For now, we'll leave you in good company, with some of pinball's famous fans:
|The Jackson 5|