Charles Fey holds a special position in slots history
. Charles Fey is the father of one of the greatest inventions of all time: the slot machine. The history of many casino games may be murky, but the origins of the slot machine are crystal clear; it was invented in San Francisco in the 1890s by Fey. For slot machine fans throughout the ages, Charles Fey is The Hero.
Before Fey's invention, there were other mechanical games of chance, such as Sittman and Pitt's poker machine that offered the player a chance to win free cigars or drinks when a winning poker combination was formed. These early machines were known as trade stimulators since the player traded in goods or products instead of receiving money for his winning hand. Fey's machine, however, was the first post-trade stimulator - it paid out in real coins.
Charles Fey was born in Bavaria in 1862, the youngest of 16 children. After spending five years as an apprentice to a maker of scientific instruments, he decided America would be the best place for him to fulfill his dream of success. In 1896 Fey opened a factory on Market Street in San Francisco, where he created card machines that improved on Sittman and Pitt's original design. But the best was yet to come.
Fey's ground-breaking self-paying slot machine - built in 1895 - had three reels and each reel had ten symbols printed on it. The symbols were horseshoes, spades, diamonds, hearts and bells. Three bells in a row yielded the largest payoff, amounting to ten nickels. This machine was known as a bell machine or, specifically, the Liberty Bell slot machine
. The original Fey machine was activated when a player inserted a coin into a slot and then pulled a lever or an arm to start the wheels spinning. Unfortunately for Fey, patent laws did not protect gaming devices. Because of this Fey did not sell his machines; instead he leased them to saloons and other locations and collected a 50% rental fee on all the winnings.
In 1907 Fey teamed up with Herbert Mills, who owned the Mills Novelty Company. A few years later, in another milestone in slot machine history
, the company introduced the "Operator Bell" machine that had three reels with 20 different symbols on each reel. The machine also featured a "gooseneck" coin shoot and fruit symbols were added to already existing symbols. The machines were very heavy and, originally, the machine had cast iron feet with toes; this feature was replaced in later versions with ornate scrolled feet. Playing-card symbols were added and the slot also featured a bell that rang when the jackpot was won (a feature of slots that has endured until today).
The popularity of slot machines spread across the United States; in 1940 Bugsy Siegal put slots on the floor of his Flamingo casino in Las Vegas. Ironically, around this time, Fey's star began to sink and he died in 1944. He didn't live to see his machine become the most popular gambling game in casinos around the world, and he didn't live to see the development of online casinos
and online slots
. He never knew that his invention would go on to change gambling history forever.