Who Invented the Slot Machine?
When we talk about who invented the slot machine, the name that usually pops up is Bavarian immigrant Charles Fey. He created a number of different machines between 1887 and 1895 that were able to automatically pay out winnings when certain symbols lined up on the reels. These machines were quite successful and popular throughout the late 1800’s in many bars in San Francisco. Before that though, there were some precursors to the slot machine. In fact, there was a machine developed by New York based Sittman and Pitt in 1891 that used five drums and 50 poker cards. Players would place a nickel into the machine and spin the handle to test their luck at winning a prize that was given out by an attendant.
In 1895, Fey created the 4-11-44 which was a more sophisticated version of his earlier creation. This machine removed two of the cards from the deck and replaced them with symbols that included hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes, and a liberty bell. Lining up three of these symbols on the payline would result in a top payout. The machine became a huge success and earned him a fortune.
The popularity of the machine continued to grow into the prohibition era when laws were passed against gambling. While the law did not stop the machines from functioning, they had to be modified to avoid being categorized as a gambling device. One way they did this was to dispense items like gum and mints so that the machine could be classified as a vending device. This led to the era of fruit machines where the poker-based symbols were replaced with fruit icons such as cherries and melons. The Chicago manufacturer Herbert Mills also introduced the Operator Bell in 1907 that featured staggered stops and automatic payouts. This helped to simplify the game and made it even more profitable.