Charles Fey - Inventor of Slots Machines

Written by Abha Vardhan

Over the last few decades, slot machines have become quite popular all around the world. The majority of online and brick and mortar casinos feature slots as one of their most important casino games. Players can enjoy hours of fun while having the possibility of winning rewards at the same time! Beginning with the classic ‘One Armed Bandit’ to modern video slots that make up a large portion of numerous online casinos games, slots have definitely come a long way.

When Was The Slot Machine Invented?

The origin of the first slot machine can be traced back to around 1891. Originally known as the ‘One Armed Bandit,’ this slot was discovered by Sittman and Pitt in New York. It had reels, which actually used to be drums with a lever on the side to start them, along with 50 card symbols on which to land. These machines were popularly used in bars throughout the country.

Charles Fey: The Creator of the First Automatic Slot

Just after the invention of the ‘One Armed Bandit,’ Charles Fey discovered the first automatic slot in California in 1895. This first automatic slot was available with just three reels and five symbols and it became one of the most sought-after games amongst players.

This automatic slot was named as the ‘Liberty Bell,’ and was installed in the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Soon, it became an inspiration for the majority of modern video slots you find today in online casinos. They use three reels and just a handful of symbols. Charles Fey is not only the inventor of the first automatic slot machine but also its first operator. The history of slot machines had only then begun.

The Early Years of Charles Fey

Charles Fey was born in a small town called Vohringen in Bavaria, Germany on February 2nd, 1862. His birth name was August, which was later changed to Charles because he didn’t like the nickname ‘Gus’ that people gave him in the US.

Charles was the youngest child of 16 children in an underprivileged but large family. When he was 14, he had his first familiarity with mechanical tools while working with his elder brother at the Farm Tool Factory in Munich.

The Journey of Young Charles

Charles’s father was very strict and wanted him to work in the German Army. Charles wanted to escape the discipline of his father and decided to leave home at the young age of 15. He moved to France where he worked as an Intercom equipment manufacturer.

Once he had enough savings, he decided to move to England at the age of 23, where he stayed for about five years and worked as a manufacturer of nautical instruments. Charles’s uncle had successfully migrated to New Jersey in America –and thus inspired by his journey, Fey decided to migrate to the US as well.

Charles Fey in America

Charles went to America and lived there for a short time with his uncle’s family in New Jersey. However, his Uncle later returned to Germany and Fey had no options but to move to California. He came to San Francisco in 1885 where he began his new journey.

Charles met a native Californian, Marie Volkmar in San Francisco and they began dating. However, Charles fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Therefore, he moved to Mexico as it was warm and good for his health. He returned to San Francisco later and got a series of creosote treatments that helped him recover.

Later, he married Marie, with whom he had three daughters and a son. In addition, he officially changed his name to Charles August Fey; however, it was the name ‘Charles Fey’ that became more popular in the slot industry. After some time, he landed a good job with the California Electric Works company.

After working for some time, Charles and his colleagues, Theodore Holtz and Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze decided to leave their jobs and start their own company for manufacturing electrical equipment, telephones, and telegraphs. This was when Charles decided to invent the first automatic slot machine.

The Invention of the Slot Machine: Liberty Bell

Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultz created the "Horseshoe Slot Machine" in 1893, which included an automatic payout mechanism for the first time. Earlier, in the 1880s, all of the slot machines needed a helper in order to make a payout.

In 1895, Charles customized the Horseshoe slot machine and made it more advanced so that it could pay out coins without the need of a helper. This slot machine became incredibly famous and thus Fey started a slot machine workshop in 1896.

In 1898, when Charles was 33, he invented the first-ever automatic slot machine and named it Liberty Bell. Although the story behind the origin of the name is unknown, it is clear that the slot machine became very popular among the masses. It comprised three reels, a slot to drop coins, and a lever on the side of the machine to start spinning the reels.

The Liberty Bell came with only five unique symbols, contrary to the newest slot machines that are available with about 10 symbols. These five symbols were spades, hearts, diamonds, horseshoes and the Liberty Bell.

When spun, around 10 symbols represent themselves on each reel with one Liberty Bell symbol. This would make it easier to evaluate the possibility of winning money for lining up three Liberty Bell symbols. The possibility was 1 in 1000 at that time and winnings back then were only half a dollar. The machine paid fifty cents when three bells aligned. The top paying combination in Liberty Bell was 4-11-44, which paid $5. The slot machine was inspired by the famous lottery game, Policy.

The backdrop of the liberty bell machine comprised of a large wooden cabinet that contained a vertical wheel which was separated in diverse coloured spaces. The players were required to place a bet on the colours by inserting a coin in the slot.

Gradually, players started to cheat at their gaming by using fake coins made of wooden nickels. In order to stop this fraud, Fey invented the first detecting pin which could distinguish between fake coins and real coins.

The Introduction of Similar Slot Machines by Competitors

Fey had his slot machine installed in numerous saloons, pubs, cigar stores, bowling alleys, barbershops and many other places in San Francisco. Since casino gaming was not legal in California, Fey couldn’t patent his machine, and this led to many opponents creating similar machines.

Herbert Mills Manufacturing in Chicago came up with their three-reel slot at the beginning of 1900. Later, in 1930, Bally Manufacturing introduced electro-mechanical slots. Also, International Game Technology in Nevada launched the concept of multimillionaire jackpots on three-reel slots after inventing the random number generator and virtual reel.

What’s more is that several other new companies made great modifications and established stunning video slots. Nevertheless, all of those advanced developments were only inspired by the invention of the first automatic slot by Charles Fey.

Charles Started his Own Company

Due to the rising popularity of the slot machine, Fey decided to focus only on creating new and advanced slot machines. Thus the creation of his individual company called ‘Charles Fey and Company’.  The majority of the initial slot machines invented by Charles featured fruit symbols including oranges, lemons, and cherries. This is why slot machines became popular as Fruit Machines, the name that is widely used by gamblers in the United Kingdom.

The Legacy of Charles Fey

Charles Fey had three daughters and a son, Edmund. Fey’s son had three sons – two of which relocated to Reno and launched their Liberty Bell Saloon. It featured numerous classic slot machines, including the Charles Liberty Bell slot. Even though the original Liberty Bell Slot Machine is not being used anymore, you can see it in a Reno museum.

Until Fey retired at the age of 82 in 1944, he actively participated in designing newer slot machines. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with pneumonia a few months later and died.

Charles Fey Made it Possible!

Fey's first automatic slot machine has slowly been modified to a current advanced form of slots in brick and mortar casinos and online casinos as well. Millions of players from various parts of the world enjoy gambling online. Players can make use of their expertise, skills, strategy, and instincts to play and enjoy popular slots at some of the leading online casinos.

So, next time you play slots and get lucky enough to win a big amount, don’t forget to remember Charles Fey, the person who contributed to the invention of slot machines!

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