Designed in 1894 by Charles Fey, the Liberty Bell slot machine mechanism had 1000 different combinations. The ingenious machine featured 3 reels adorned with symbols of diamonds, spades, horseshoes, hearts, and the Liberty Bell.
Once the player deposited a nickel in the slot on the top right-hand side of the machine, he could pull the side lever. The reels would begin to spin, finally stopping on a random combination of symbols.
Winnings and Payouts
After putting a nickel into the Liberty Bell slot machine, if the same symbol appeared on all three reels a bell would ring, and the machine would automatically pay out the winnings.
The first Liberty Bell machines offered a payout of up to 50 cents (10 nickels). In 1895, to make his games more attractive, Fey increased the highest winnings to 20 nickels, i.e. 1 dollar.
The jackpot was won when three Liberty Bell symbols lined up in a row.
Liberty Bell paylines from 1895
- 2 horseshoes = 2 coins
- 2 horseshoes + 1 star = 4 coins
- 3 spades = 8 coins
- 3 diamonds = 12 coins
- 3 hearts = 16 coins
- 3 Liberty Bell = 20 coins
The slot machine was very profitable for Charles Fey because it automatically paid out any winnings, which meant that there was no need to have an employee present. This concept immediately appealed to saloon patrons.
Although some customers, tired of losing, nicknamed the machine the “one-armed bandit”, Fey’s slot machines remained immensely popular.
In 1907, Charles Fey created new models in response to the growing demand for slot machines.
In 1910, the Mills Novelty Company, one of Fey’s competitors, produced the Operator Bell, a landmark machine featuring fruit symbols. In 1915 the firm began producing machines with wooden cabinets, in order to reduce manufacturing costs. The heavy cast iron machines were gradually withdrawn from the market.
In 1916 Charles Fey pioneered the first JACKPOT slot machine. One of the game’s winning combinations paid out all the coins in the machine. These “one-armed bandits” were a big hit. However, Fey’s competitors quickly copied the jackpot idea, which really caused harm to his business.
Fruit Slot Machines
The origin of the real-money slot machine can be traced back to Charles Fey. His machines set the standard, and he made history with the Liberty Bell model.
Even in the face of gambling prohibition and rival manufacturers, slot machine pioneer Charles Fey never gave up. According to documented archives, the Bavarian-born Californian worked with the Mills Company to manufacture fruit slot machines, thereby circumventing the 1909 ban on gambling in California.
Fey and Mills’ fruit machines offered the chance to win chewing gum for every nickel deposited. To emphasize that they were vending machines, not gambling machines, fruit symbols replaced the poker symbols.
The fruits were suggestive of chewing gum flavors! And that’s how the popular fruit symbols made their appearance in slot machines. As for the BAR symbols, they represented the label on the chewing gum packaging, or a pack of chewing gum.
1930s and 1940s
Important changes were made to slot machines in the early 1930s. First, they were designed to be quieter. Secondly, the cabinets were made of wood, each with its own unique design.
Slot machines saw a rise of popularity in America in the 1930s. The end of prohibition on December 5, 1933 was a decisive factor. Fey’s machines continued to be successful, but faced with competing manufacturers, his business gradually went into decline.
Slot Machines and Casinos
Bugsy Siegel, proprietor of the Flamingo Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, which opened in 1946, was the first casino operator to introduce slot machines. In just a few years, the revenue generated by the machines at the Flamingo exceeded that of table games. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that the slot machine industry became a worldwide success.
The Flamingo in Las Vegas now belongs to the Caesars Entertainment group. The company was founded in 1937 in Reno. Now based in Las Vegas, it owns properties in various US states, as well as in South Africa, England, Canada and Egypt.
Liberty Bell Slot Machines
Fey’s machines were never actually used in casinos. At the peak of his career, the inventor of the Liberty Bell mainly operated his slot machines in San Francisco bars and saloons.
Charles Fey was born on September 9, 1862, and died on November 10, 1944. He was the pioneer of the automatic payout slot machine, and remained a key figure in the gaming industry. Ironically, Fey never benefited from the casino boom of the 1950s.