On Friday, Nov. 13, 1970, Michael Thevis slipped into his office early for an important meeting. With balding hair and a tidy goatee, the 38-year-old business owner looked like any other executive working in downtown Atlanta. His company headquarters spanned an entire city block of historic Marietta Street and commanded annual profits of $25 million—more than Hewlett-Packard or Hershey Foods. But Thevis wasn’t in computers or chocolate. He was in America’s hottest new commodity: pornography.
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He liked to boast that 99 percent of America’s adult magazines and films flowed through his sprawling warehouse, where 300 workers arrived every day. In his factory, Thevis manufactured a new machine that was taking the sex industry by storm. It was like a jukebox for porn, with an 8mm projector that played a 15-second loop of erotic film. Thevis leased them to adult bookstores, where the lustful and the curious locked themselves in a private booth and kept the action rolling by feeding it quarters. During the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the peep machine racket would earn an estimated $2 billion. In the conservative Deep South, Mafia-like firms battled for its obscene profits, as Atlanta became America’s murder capital.