Slot machines are a casino favourite across the world, but did you know they have been around for over one hundred years? In the year that the first slot machine was played, Vogue Magazine was preparing to launch, Thomas Edison had just invented the lightbulb and Carnegie Hall would open for the first time, as shown at https://www.carnegiehall.org/About/. It had been just over a century since the US had gained independence and the country was at the forefront of innovation.
The first slot machine was built in the late 1800s in New York. It was based on poker and contained five wheels with a deck of 50 spinning cards. There was no payout for a win on these early slot machines, although many were housed in bars, so players might get a free beer for winning a royal flush or a cigar for a pair of kings.
It wasn’t until 1895 when the first slot machine with a payout was born. Invented in 1895 by Charles Fey in San Francisco, the first real slot machine was named Liberty Bell. As you can imagine, it was a complex gadget full of levers and reels. In slot games, you can often hear the game mimicking the sounds of the moving mechanisms. This would have been something that players of the Liberty Bell would have known for real. The cards were replaced with five pictures: horseshoe, hearts, spades and diamonds, and a Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence to which the machine owes its name, as discussed at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/.
The original jackpot on the Liberty Bell was 50 cents, which is a far cry from the jackpots available today. For instance, at Paddy Power, there are three different types of jackpot to be won, including a Monster Jackpot, which was most recently won in March for £1.6 million; the site continues to host such games, which can be played at https://games.paddypower.com/c/jackpot-slots. And it isn’t just the size of the jackpots that show how far slot machines have come. Rather than levers and reels, players can now enjoy a multitude of different games, some of which are based on feature films such as Sausage Party and The Naked Gun.
Although it seems like a triumphant story, it wasn’t all plain sailing. In 1902, just seven years after the first Liberty Bell had been played, Christian Reformists made it their mission to ban card games across the US; and the Liberty Bell was banned in most states. However the ban was not on slot machines, but on cards, so as a way of circumnavigating the ban, manufacturers of the Liberty Bell changed pictures of playing cards to fruits or candies. It is from this modification that the British term ‘Fruit Machine’ originates, and it is still used today to refer to slot machines in pubs and bars.
The introduction of electricity replaced the lever with a button, flashing lights and pre-recorded sounds. As the internet grew, so did online gaming. The humble slot machine would go stratospheric, and although it may look nothing like its great-great-great-grandfather, slot machines are still a favourite across the world, and it’s all thanks to the All-American Liberty Bell.