Coin-operated slot machines appeared towards the end of the 1800s and soon after, in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, a mechanic from Bavaria named Charles Fey invented the first legal ‘slot machine’.

Slot Machines The Colorful History

THE FIRST CARD Slot Machines

A precursor to the modern slot machine was The Card Machine, developed by Sittman and Pitt in 1891. It contained five drums holding a total of 50 card faces and was based on the card game poker. Players would insert a nickel and pull a lever which would spin the drums.

There was no mechanical payout mechanism so prizes depended on the local establishment. A winning hand such as a pair of Kings might get a free beer, while a big win like a royal flush would get the player a cigar or highball.

To make the odds better for the house, two cards were typically removed from the deck (hence only 50 card faces): the ten of spades and the jack of hearts. This doubled the odds against spinning a royal flush. The drums could also be rearranged to further reduce a player’s chance of winning.

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A mechanical payout for this kind of machine was very difficult because of all the permutations of results. The first machine to have a mechanical payout would have to have fewer spinning drums.

We’ve been scouring the internet for instructions on how to build one of these Card Machines as it seems like it would be a fun thing to have around the house for your next party! We did find this fun DIY Craft – How to Build A Slot Machine


San Francisco in the late 1800s was a wild gold rush town with saloons, bordellos, cigar shops, honky tonks, and of course, gambling. Gambling machines such as Sittman and Pitt’s Card Machine were doing very well.

At that time, a Bavarian mechanic by the name of Charles Fey could see the potential of gambling machines and, in the basement of his Berkeley apartment building, started to create his own machines, starting with The Horseshoe and then the 4-11-44. This latter machine was quite successful. Then, in 1898 Fey built a machine called the Card Bell that would forever change the face of slot machines.

This machine had a three-reel, staggered stop, with an automatic payout design; a design that dominated the slot industry until the age of electronics and is still used in some places even now. As a result, Charles Fey is universally regarded as the inventor of the slot machine.

The Card Bell had playing card symbols on its three reels at first, but a year later Fey changed the symbols to include stars and bells and renamed the machine the Liberty Bell. Three bells in a row produced the biggest payoff, ten nickels (50¢).

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Many other variations of the Liberty Bell followed. It’s interesting to note that some gave out winnings in the form of fruit-flavoured chewing gums. Pictures of the flavours were used as symbols on the three reels instead of Fey’s stars and bells.

Today’s slot machines often feature the popular cherry and melon symbols derived from those early machines. The BAR symbol now common in slot machines was originally derived from an early logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company.