Charles “father” Fey
Let us start from the beginning. The inventor of the first slot is a man named Charles Fey. Sometimes also called the “father of the slots”. Charles came from a large and poor German family. He was born in 1862. Around the age of fourteen, he began to show a strong interest in mechanics. He gained valuable knowledge in this area in the first electro-mechanical factories in France and the United Kingdom, where he worked for several years. However, he was not very satisfied with the life of the employee in the factory, so he decided to move to the USA. He was only 23 years old when he got a job at American Electric Company. Here he met his future business partner Theodor Holtz. Together, they decided to leave work in the factory and set up their own business for the production of electro-mechanical equipment.
Born in San Francisco
In 1895, Charles Fay invented the brand new machine. It was the first slot in history called the Liberty Bell. The device system was based on the famous lottery called “Policy” and offered the first winning combinations in the world. The device quickly became very popular and during the year Fey decided to open his factory for their production. During the existence of the factory, more than 10,000 Liberty Bell pieces have been produced. One such (originally made of cast iron) weighed about 45 kilos.
For the avoidance of doubt, money could not be won on the very first devices that could be called slot machines. You could play games with poker cards (understand: you could play hi-card, later poker draw, not real poker) and were developed by the New York Company. The devices were called Sittman and Pitt Company. Instead of money, you could win food, drinks, chewing gums or cigarettes. This is exactly what Liberty Bell was exceptional in, offering a monetary reward for the lucky ones (as much as 50 cents). This made it the first slot machine in history. However, cash prizes have brought with them many problems with the law, but let’s not get ahead of the story.
The Liberty Bell Slot – All about It
The first Liberty Bell slot had a total of three steel reels (originally called hoops). The machine contained ten painted symbols on each of them. Namely, there ware Liberty bells, horseshoes, spades, diamonds and hearts. However, they did not have much in common with current game symbols. To put the machine into motion, the player had to toss a few coins and pull the lever. It started the game round (the reels started spinning) and you just waited for the reels to stop. Winning combinations were always made up of three identical symbols in a row (two were exceptionally enough for a small payout). If you won, the bell (hence the name) allegedly rang. The win was around fifty cents.
The paylines looked like this:
- 2 horseshoes = .05 cents
- 2 horseshoes + 1 star = .10 cents
- 3 carts = .20 cents
- 3 crosses = .30 cents
- 3 hearts = .40 cents
- 3 Liberty Bells = .50 cents
Logically, it took several dozen years for slots to transform into what they look like today. Fey’s successors developed new slots by gradually adding the number of reels and symbols on them. Of course, the design also constantly evolved. Demand was indeed unusually high at the time the slots were created. Fey leased his slots to local stores, receiving a fifty-per cent commission fee on profits for the rest of his life.
Gradually, however, serious problems with the law arose as slots began to fall into the category of gambling, which was banned. This forced Fey to re-install non-cash prizes winnings such as food and drink in some of his devices. However, fate did not seem to be in favour of the slot machines. At least as far as the laws were concerned. Along with the great wave of popularity, the legislative wave also rose, and slot machines were outlawed in 1909 in San Francisco and later in Nevada in 1910. A big surprise was the ban on slots in 1911 in otherwise liberated California.
Evolution of Slots
Neither Fey nor his successors ever stopped improving the invention. Most of the changes were in the design – Fey was the first to install lighting in the slots and generally improved the design in such a way that the slots fit better into the environment (bars, cafes and casinos). Fey himself realized that it was important to place the slot close to the entrance to immediately alert incoming visitors. Other changes were mainly about the material. The original iron was replaced with wood. Some improvements also came involuntarily. The first cheaters appear and started using counterfeit coins. At the time, the slot companies came up with another of the inventions – the coin separator, which could recognize counterfeit coins.
How Operation Bell Came to Life
Fey’s factory did not manage to fulfil the demand for slots, but Fey refused to sell his patent for production to anyone else. Despite this, in 1907 a mechanic named Herbert Mills from Chicago decided to produce the same machines under his own brand – Operation Bell. But every cloud has a silver lining. And so with the arrival of Operation Bell on the scene in 1910, the slots underwent a number of significant improvements by the Mills Novelty Company. As part of this upgrade, they experienced a smarter entry for coins and, above all, the introduction of the popular “fruit” symbols, such as cherries, plums or lemons.
Wood was also used as the main material, which made production much easier and, most importantly, cheaper. The Mills Novelty Company was responsible for this again in about 1915. It produced a total of more than thirty thousand pieces of wooden Operation Bell. Over time, the original significant ringing of the bell, which announced the win, was also removed. Another significant innovation from the Mills Novelty Company was the introduction of a double jackpot. The player could thus win more often and higher amounts.
Slots in Politics
Just as slots from the Mills Novelty Company were at the peak of popularity in the 1930s, gambling became a major political issue in America, and civil society gradually began to become very reluctant to gamble (and slots in particular). Nevertheless, there is one well-known story associated with the 1940s. A Bugsy Siegel had one slot machine installed at his Flamingo Hilton hotel in Las Vegas. Supposedly because the partners of rich guests (visitors to the hotel-casino) have something to play with. And that’s where one big, really big story started.
Back to the Beginning
Would you like to play a historical slot machine? You can. Just go to the state of Nevada and visit Liberty Belle Saloon in Reno. There is a whole museum of slot machines. They have two hundred historical pieces here. You will also find other pieces from Fey’s workshop, such as Draw Power, Three spindle or Klondike. The end of the story of the inventor ends during World War II in 1944. By the way, in the year when slot machines were declared the most popular game in Las Vegas.