The 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 players – 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 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 betting 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 betting. 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 three giant bells, and patriotic ones at that. Having safely sterilized his machines, he could now get them put in saloons, shops, restaurants, and public spaces all over the country, even in markets where betting with cards was frowned-upon.