Slots took the world by storm. Right from the creation of the very first slot machine, people queued up to have a shot at this novelty piece of entertainment. The principle of inserting a coin and playing a game with a chance to win more coins was exciting and we can surely see from the popularity of slots today, this principle stuck with people. Slots have been around for more than a century and have evolved and improved to get where they are today – play Temple of Iris Slot.
The first slot machine was manufactured by a Bavarian-born citizen of the United States Charles Fey. In this article, we take a look at his life and the first machines that he created.
Where did the inspiration come from?
Before Charles Fey came up with slot machines as we know them, he must have drawn inspiration from somewhere. This could have likely been another kind of gambling device which pre-dated the slot machines by some 20 years. In the 1880s United States, bars and saloons had coin-operated game machines where 2 or more toy horses would race after the coin was inserted into the machine. These were popular devices with the town folk and many handymen looked at them with curiosity, thinking of what could be the next stage for money-operated games.
One of them was the inventor Charles Fey, who was a mechanic in the San Francisco area in the 1890s.
The Card Bell and the Liberty Bell
Fey’s first coin-operated gambling device was created in 1894. The following year he produced a prototype of a machine called 4-11-44 that proved so successful in the local saloon that he quit his job as a mechanic and opened a factory to build more gaming devices.
He created the Card Bell in 1898 which had 3 reels and a mechanical “hand” that set the reels in motion. The game was won by forming poker hands on the reels. This was the first slot machine that had the iconic look of slots as we know it!
In 1899, Charles Fey created his most successful machine to date, the Liberty Bell, which was a successor to the Card Bell. Operated just like the Card Bell (except it had horseshoe and bell symbols along with playing card symbols), Liberty Bell sparked the excitement of all the locals. Gambling was illegal in California at the time, so Fey couldn’t patent the machine and his competitors copied it. Everyone wanted a piece of the success and fame that the slot machine inventor achieved. We could mark this as the beginning of the slot machine industry.
Here’s a bit more about the man behind one of the most successful games in the history. The inventor was actually called August Fey. Some sources claim that he changed his name to Charles because he didn’t like the nickname ‘Gus.
As a young man, he worked in France and London before migrating to New Jersey where his uncle lived. He was 23 at the time.
Charles travelled all over the USA and settled in San Francisco, California. There he started working at the Western Electric Works company. Later he started his own company together with Theodore Holtz and Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze: this company worked with electrical equipment and telephones. It was with these 2 friends and colleagues that Charles Fey opened the slot machine workshop between 1896 and 1897.
In San Francisco, Fey also met his future wife Marie Christine Volkmar. Their relationship was interrupted for a while when Charles got diagnosed with Tuberculosis and moved to Mexico for a few years of treatment. He married Marie in 1889. The couple had three daughters and one son.