James SmithBMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.333.7571.757 (Published 05 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:757
Before movies and television, small town Americans went to penny arcades for amusement, dropping coins into devices that entertained them by making mechanical figures move or—like today's slot machines—rewarded them with more coins if they played a game correctly. The devices were also found in bars, amusement parks, restaurants, and hotels. Their popularity peaked before the first world war and they went out of style when prohibition closed America's bars.
When James Smith was a boy in East Liverpool, Ohio, the son of a dignified banker, he often rode the trolley car across the state line to an amusement park in Chester, West Virginia, where he enjoyed dropping pennies and nickels (five cent pieces) into machines that told fortunes, tested one's strength, played games, or offered penny candy. He said he loved the challenge of trying to beat the machines, but his father discouraged his son's gaming habits.
Smith lost interest—for a while—in the clever machines during his years in …