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Invention of the Slot Machine – History of Slots

By: Cat MarshallOctober 8, 2020

We all enjoy the colourful graphics and fantastic gameplay of modern slots. But where and why did it all begin? Who invented the slot machine? The answer to all these questions will help us get a better appreciation of slot machines and the entertainment they bring us. Perhaps we will even understand why we continue to play them after so many years? Without further ado, let’s dive into the wonderful history of slot machines.

Categorization of the History

Before we truly begin, we would like to provide a quick list you can use to navigate this blog. You can use it to find specific information or simply as a preview of what’s to come. You will also find an operator with an abundance of slot games to try out. Either way, we hope you enjoy this journey through history, filled with interesting events.

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Sittman, Pitt and the Precursor

Who invented the first slot machines? That is the question every casino enthusiast asks. Charles Fey was the one who created slot machines as we know them, with three reels and automatic payout. However, he would not be able to achieve this without the true first prototype of slot machines.

The history of who invented slot machines began in 1891, when two New Yorkers by the name of Sittman and Pitt created the first-ever poker machine. That’s right, Charles Fey was not the first to come up with the idea. This original machine was more like playing poker by yourself. It was created as a response to the popularity of the game, and soon, many bars across America would get one for their establishment. So the answer to “when were slot machines invented?” may be 1891

As mentioned, the machine was like playing poker alone. Put in a nickel, pull the lever and hope to get a winning hand. There were five drums containing the 50 cards used in poker, and such modern five reel slots have a lot more in common with this machine than the Liberty Bell. To make the game harder, Jack of Hearts and 10 of Spades were removed from the drums, so that winning was harder.

When you won, you weren’t showered in coins like modern slots. With no automatic payouts, bars had to set their own prizes, so no two bars were the same. For the most part, prizes consisted of a free beer or a pack of cigars depending on the value of the hand. However, the game was very hard and mostly served as extra revenue for the bars.

This original machine was incredibly fun and innovative for players. Finally, there was a gambling game that did not require multiple players and offered interesting rewards. However, the fact you could not immediately get a reward is what held it back. This machine was revolutionary and would pave the way for a phenomenal new game.

Life of Charles Fey

Before getting into the machine, we must first talk about its creator. Augustinus Josphenus Fey was born on February 2 1862, in Bavaria to a family of 15. With a poor family and growing industrialization, he would develop his interest in mechanization through farming at a young age.

After some time working in France and acquiring English fluency in Great Britain, he would move to San Francisco and work as a machinist. He would also change his first name to Charles, as he was not fond of the nickname “Gus”. While working at California Electric Works, he would develop an interest in slot machines along with Theodor Holtz and Gustav Schultze.

Schultze went on to produce his slot machines, while Holtz and Faye would start trying to create their own machines and improve upon Schultze’s design. In some regard, it was Schulzte who invented slot machines but Fey invented the best version. This would lead them to create their own company, though Fey would later start working on his own. The ultimate goal was to produce a new type of slot machine that would become popular among gamblers.

Gustav Schultze would patent his own Horseshoe slot machine, but Fey would be the one to create an incredible game that would sweep all of America. However, the road to the first true slot machine was not an easy one. The Liberty Bell was the final evolution in a long line of games.

Road to Liberty

Before the Liberty Bell, Charles Fey would produce a variety of slot machines, attempting to create one that would be truly popular. 4-11-44 was his first machine with an automatic payout. The highest value were tokens worth around five dollars. This immediate payout was popular with gamblers, as they could immediately get something and not have to rely on the bar.

4-11-44 also used a three-disc system, which would become important later. Fey’s next game was Card Bell. This slot machine had an automatic payout, operated with nickels and had three drums with various card suits. What made it stand out was the staggered-stop mechanism. This is the mechanism that makes each reel stop sequentially, adding suspense to modern slot machines.

Both of these games were fairly popular, with 4-11-44 giving Fey a massive boost. It was popular in saloons and allowed him to expand his business, so he could improve his work and produce even more games. He moved to a shop in the financial district and could be close to his competitors like Schulze.

However, the true slot machine was not yet complete as one issue remained. It was impractical to try and simulate a poker hand like a flush. Even Card Bell, which only had suit symbols, was not enough. After much deliberation, Charles Fey came up with the Liberty Bell. So the answer to who invented the slot machine is Charles Fey.

The Bell Tolls for Liberty

Liberty Bell was the magnum opus of Charles Fey. It combined all of his experience into a fun three-reel machine, created in 1899. Some of the suits were replaced with symbols like horseshoes, stars and bells. The name comes from the American symbol of freedom, symbolizing the culmination of Fey’s work. Although we have a year, it is uncertain when were slot machines invented, as there are different theories

The machine would have a staggered-stop mechanism and immediate payouts. The highest reward was three bells, giving fifty cents. It became popular with gamblers, as they were able to earn actual money and the rewards were set. The RTP was 86%. Setting the rewards was easier, as there were less winning combinations, while the poker machine could not anticipate every winning hand.

Fey would service and install the machines himself, while he would make money through a 50/50 split between him and the establishments of all coins. The machine itself, would be upgraded with a pin to detect fake coins. All of this made the Liberty Bell a sought-after machine.

Charles Fey would go on to make even more slot machines and other gambling games. He even created an office in Chicago. However, all this popularity would lead to many competitors, all of them trying to copy his success. One of those was Herbert Mills.

Mills’ Operator Bell

Fey’s business was hit hard after the San Francisco earthquake. It is unknown exactly what happened after as some theories suggest he worked with Mills, while others say his designs were stolen. Regardless, Charles Fey recovered and enjoyed success, but the new leader was Herbert Mills of Mills’ Novelty. His innovative designs would continue the evolution of slot machines into the versions we know today.

Mills initially produced machines that worked exactly like the Liberty Bell. He would be able to produce them much faster than Fey as he used assembly line production. However, Mills would only find true success with his own modified version of the slot called the Operator Bell. Fey was the one who invented slot machines, but Mills would refine them.

The Operator Bell had fruit symbols and a better coin entry, but ultimately functioned the same. It would even gain popularity in Europe, where Mills expanded his business. What made this machine revolutionary were all the different upgrades made to it. Wood cabinets allowed for cheaper production and more machines. The noise was reduced, and people could win twice in a row. Later machines based on the Operator Bell, even displayed the coins used in the game

Mills found enormous success due to his cheaper production methods and innovations. Slot machines would become even more popular across America and even Europe. However, this success would not last long for everyone as a new threat to the gambling industry emerged: state prohibition.

Fruit Machines and New Laws

Political corruption, the belief gambling was designed to steal money, and a more Victorian morality led to a rough era for slot machines in the early 20th century. Many people believed gambling and alcohol ruined men, preventing them from contributing to society. This led to nation-wide legislation that banned slot machines entirely.

Initially, slot machines were refurbished to instead payout chewing gum. The various fruit symbols would denote the flavour you won. With this, manufacturers could still earn revenue as these were “vending machines” and not slot machines. The famous BAR symbol comes from the logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company. However, it would not be enough as even vending machines were banned.

Speakeasies were secret illegal versions of saloons that allowed slot machines and alcohol so they could earn revenue. As such, slot machines remained popular, and gambling continued to thrive, even under the ban. While the state was dumping slot machines in the oceans, Chicago became the new capital of gambling and Nevada even legalized gambling in 1931.

Slot machines would enjoy a boom in popularity and revenue both during the ban and the two World Wars. The excitement of gambling and chance to win, even if it was only 50 cents was enticing. It was also a fun escape from the tragedies around the time. Slot machines would continue to be popular, but would not innovate too much until the 60s.

New Age for Slots

The prohibition era ended in 1933, so slot machines were now back in action. For a while, there were no real changes as slot machines were very solid and fun games. However, payouts were still very small, and the machines were becoming outdated. Bally was a producer of pinball machines that began using electromechanics in their games. Slot game manufacturers began using such elements to improve their games, but Bally was able to truly refine it.

Money Honey was the beginning of a new age of slot games and was closer to what we have now. This electromechanical slot had new sound effects, digital reels and 25 symbols. It ran on electricity ,and future games would even have more reels, so it was harder to win. The most revolutionary aspect was the hopper. This is the basket that contains all the coins which can be immediately paid out.

Hoppers allowed for bigger payouts, so you could earn up to 500 coins. Later versions would even allow for dollar coins. You could even bet higher wagers, such as $100. The final innovation was the random number generator. Bally hired a computer programmer called Inge Telnaus to help them increase jackpot sizes, while still making a profit.

He created a program that assigned numbers to imaginary reels. As such, you could no longer predict the outcome and winning became harder. While it might sound like this favours the company too much, consumers benefited from this change too. Higher payouts and a higher jackpot meant you could win big and get showered in coins if you’re lucky.

Slot Machine Domination

Nowadays, slot machines are a mainstay in casinos and sometimes even the main attraction. They’re also designed in a sleek and stylish way, so that people can enjoy colourful graphics and amazing sound effects. Some games are even themed after movies or video games. The RNG ensures games are not rigged and can be enjoyed by anyone.

The fact you don’t need practical skills and the fast gameplay made it, so casinos dedicated entire sections to slot machines. Space was made for them, and operators would get as many slots as they could. They would become a huge source of revenue for casinos and a popular game for players, due to its simple nature and high payouts.

Novomatic is one of the current top developers of slot cabinets. Curved screens, high resolution and an interactive touch screen are just some of the highlights. Modern slot machines have done away with levers and most mechanical elements. Instead, it’s all electronic and activated with the push of a button. Their design and mechanics continue to evolve even now.

Furthermore, Microgaming is one of the leading slot developers today. As they have been working on slot games since 1994, they have acquired a lot of experience in the industry. This makes them a top choice for any slot player. Their games continue to evolve and bring new features, along with better graphics.

For the most part, slot machines have currently reached their best form, and there haven’t been major innovations in the cabinets. Instead the future of slot machines is in the games, as they continue innovating with new features. However, the games are no longer bound to cabinets.

Although the answer to “Who invented the first slot machines?” may be Charles Fey, he is not the end of the story. Those who continued his legacy and kept improving on the design and mechanisms of slot machines, are just as important as the one who started it all.

Conclusion – Future of Slots

From a poker simulator to dedicated sections in a casino, slot machines have become the face of casino games, with their colourful graphics and fun gameplay. The bonus rounds and variety of gameplay elements continue to make slot games fun and exciting, even after an entire century. Their popularity is so big that even the internet has them.

With the rise of online casinos, slot games have moved online as well. They’re easy to transfer and continue to offer wonderful bonus features and huge rewards. Games also evolve beyond the typical reels and instead offer innovative gameplay, akin to a videogame. The ability to play anywhere, even on the phone, and the demo versions of games allowslots to reach even more people. To find where you can play the games, check out our page for the best UK casino sites.

Overall, slot games have earned their popularity. Charles Fey was able to improve upon a wonderful concept, and his legacy can still be felt today. It is unknown what the future will bring for slot games and how they will develop, but one thing is for certain – slots have left their mark on the gambling industry. Charles Fey was not just the one who invented the slot machine, but also the one who would change the face of gambling.

FAQ Section

With this history lesson done, it’s time for some questions. Understandably, there are many confusing things or unknowns about the history of slot machines. Some of it is even speculation, as there is not much info to find. However, we will help by answering some questions that you may have.

❓ The very first slot machine to appear in history was developed by whom?

While Sittman and Pitt created a prototype that would lead to slot machines, Charles Fey is the true inventor. His skills as a mechanic allowed him to resolve the issue of immediate payouts and create a truly popular machine. The Liberty Bell was his ultimate machine and revolutionized gambling.

🕰️ When was the first slot machine invented?

There are debates on the exact year of Fey's invention. Some say it was created in 1887, long before Sittman and Pitt's machine from 1891. However, the most accepted year is 1895, four years after Sittman. This is due to the fact Sittman and Pitt's machine did not have immediate payouts, which was created by Fey.

⚖️ What happened to Charles Fey?

After the San Francisco earthquake and the ban on slot machines, Charles Fey would no longer be a leader in slot machine manufacturing. He would instead produce weighing scales at his own company with his sons. Despite that, his machines were used as the basis for Mills' Operator Bell, so his legacy continues.

🚫 Why were slot machines banned?

In the early 20th century, there was a growing public opinion against slot machines. Various factors contributed, including fear of political corruption and that gambling ruined people. Slot machines were known as "one-armed bandits" as it was believed they were designed to steal all your money. They would cause addiction and ruin the lives of honest men.

🌐 Why have slot games moved online?

The future of slots has been tied to the ever-growing use of the Internet. People enjoy being able to play from the comfort of their homes, without needing to find a casino. Additionally, slots are now more about the games themselves than their cabinets. Their simplicity also makes them easier to produce for online games.