Answer: Smaller $1 Coins
In the early 1980s, the U.S. gaming industry, still predominantly arcade-centered, lobbied the U.S. government for a smaller $1 coin—one that was similar in size and weight to the U.S. quarter. Why did they care? Inflation was eating into arcade profits as machines were geared for quarters, but the real value of the quarter had fallen by roughly a third since the advent of widespread arcade use. U.S. companies were trying to stabilize the U.S. game market by mimicking the Japanese arcade market (which used a ¥100 coin, worth around 1 USD).
During the 1970s, there was a U.S. dollar coin in circulation, the Eisenhower dollar, but it was far too large for practical use in arcade machines since it would require extensive retooling. Some readers may recall that the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced in 1979 and was much smaller and lighter than the Eisenhower dollar. It would seem like a nearly perfect match for the game industry’s demands except that the adoption rate among the public was so poor that it was unlikely arcade goers would have any on hand. Irony of ironies, while the game industry really wanted a coin that was very U.S. quarter like, the fact that the Susan B. Anthony dollar was very similar in size and weight to the U.S. quarter was one of the things consumers cited as their primary dislike of the coin.
The game industry’s quest for a new coin to ensure profits in a niche market wasn’t the first time an organization or company had lobbied for a coin specifically designed to help them profit. In the 1950s, Coca-Cola lobbied the U.S. Treasury Department to begin minting a 7.5 cent coin so that consumers could continue to use a single coin to buy a bottle of Coke—Coca-Cola had been 5 cents a bottle since the 1880s, but the fixed price was eating into Coke’s profits. Their attempt, like the game industry’s, was unsuccessful.
Image courtesy of Atari.