If you are a late arrival to the slot gaming party, then you can be forgiven for thinking that the history of slots began in the mid-1990s when these games first appeared online. The truth is that as with most forms of gambling, slots have a rich but chequered history, and this is even though their history only dates to 1894.
The first modern gambling slot is thought to have been invented by the Bavarian-born American inventor Charles August Fey who was working as a mechanic in San Francisco. Fey developed a couple of prototype coin-operated gambling machines that proved popular in local saloons. However, he didn’t strike gold until he unleashed the Liberty Bell mechanical slot in 1899 – click to play online.
The Liberty Bell: A Closer Look
The Liberty Bell slot was a hand construct machine that consisted of 3-reels that were activated to spin, from a single pull and release of a lever. The game itself was coin-activated and the symbols on the reels included horseshoes, playing card faces, and the bell of the title. The Liberty Bell was the top paying symbol and three in a row were needed for the maximum payout. The success of this slot meant that Fey quit as a mechanic and concentrated all his time, money, and effort into mass-producing this Liberty Bell machine. It is believed that Fey built 100 of these machines before tragedy struck.
The great earthquake of San Francisco destroyed all but four of these machines leaving Fey devastated. More despair followed when Fey failed to patent his design and idea and this left the doors wide open for his competitors such as the Mills Novelty Company who were based in Chicago to muscle in on his designs.
This led to a huge boom in the production of slots with each inventor keen to outdo what had come before, this created better slots with more drums and bigger prizes. However, trouble was brewing in society because of the popularity of slots. The moral minority were up in arms, and this spelled trouble for the developers of the 3,300 slot machines that were in circulation in San Francisco alone by 1909.
Gambling Bans and Slots
In 1909 the inevitable happened and gambling was banned in the city. However, Fey and his army of competition had a few tricks left up their sleeves to help their creations survive. During the gambling bans, slot machines were tweaked and became vending machines. Gone were the card faces and other symbols synonymous with gambling and these were replaced instead with fruit symbols.
Cash prizes were also dropped and replaced with sweets and gum. Once the gambling bans were lifted most slot manufacturers relocated to Chicago and by the 1920s, slot’s popularity hit new heights once more. The coming years saw organized criminal gangs muscle in on the slot success story.
Which was the first slot machine?Gambling eventually cleaned up its act and technology brought us to where we are today, but when you next spin a reel, spare a thought for one Charles August Fey who got the ball rolling all those years ago.