The History of Slot Machines Mines Games Bonuses
The history of slot machines begins with the invention of coin-operated mechanical devices around the year 1880. At that time, America was expanding rapidly to the West. Frontier towns not unlike the dusty hardscrabble villages you find in classic Western films were popping up as Manifest Destiny asserted itself.
Slot Machine Origins
Vintage Slot Machine Game
The invention of coin-op devices was kind of inevitable. The people of the frontier were nothing if not crafty. They also found themselves with an ever-increasing amount of leisure time. At the same time, they had new access to inexpensive metal goods. Knowledge was spreading, as was the entrepreneurial spirit and the patent market.
In the beginning, these gadgets were novelty items. Found mainly in bars and restaurants, they were more like games than anything else. A popular game at the time featured a “race” between two toy horses, triggered by inserting a coin in the machine. Bettors would gamble on the outcome among themselves, rather than using the machine itself.
By the year 1888, machines that paid out real coins were patented, though they weren’t that popular. These were crude devices and required a lot of upkeep. They were also notoriously easy to rip off. More popular were games that paid off in prizes from the bartender – coins, free drinks, cigars, etc. An example of these early games would be a simple three-card poker game. Your prize varied depending on which cards sprang up. The bartender would then reward you accordingly.
The First Slot Machine
First Slot Machine
A Bavarian-born American citizen, an inventor by the name of Charles August Fey, is responsible for the first game that we can call a true slot machine. Fey was working as a mechanic in San Francisco, a town in the middle of a boom thanks to the discovery of precious metals and the expansion of the American West. Bored with his work, he built the first known coin-operated slot machine in 1894. He failed to interest a single shopkeeper, but kept working on his invention in his own time. His game was called The Card Bell.
By 1896, his Card Bell game was revamped as a three-reel slot machine with an auto cash payout mechanism. It proved to be so popular that Fey was forced to quit his job, open a factory, and produce units as quickly as possible. The game itself would be recognizable to modern gamblers – it featured a level that set three spinning reels in motion. The symbols were based on the traditional playing card suits, which lined up to (hopefully) form a valuable poker hand.
But Fey had a problem. This was frontier America, a country still very much under the influence of Puritanism. Ministers railed against the evils of gambling with cards. In many of the towns Fey visited to try to expand his gaming empire, he ran up against townspeople predisposed to distrust card playing.
Fey wouldn’t make the same mistake with his next slot. Called the Liberty Bell, it contained absolutely no references to cards or other common forms of gambling. The first Liberty Bell was completed in 1899, featuring symbols like horseshoes, bells, and numbers. Though some playing card symbols were incorporated, the focus of the game was on the lining up of three giant bells, and patriotic ones at that.
Having safely sterilized his machines, he could now get them put up in saloons, shops, restaurants, and public spaces all over the country, even in markets where gambling with cards was frowned-upon.
The Invention of Fruit Symbols
Slots Fruit Symbols
The use of fruit symbols in slot machines is a tradition going back all the way to 1909.