Let’s go back to the late 1800s to begin the Slots History for this
lesson at the Learn, Play
There was gambling then, of course. There seemingly always have been games of chance. Sheep’s knuckles fashioned into dice have been found at sites dating to the Roman Empire.
But we’re not going that far back in slots history. We’re going only to the beginnings of slot machines. And in the late 1800s, there were a proliferation of coin-operated gaming devices. There were machines that used cards as symbols, and machines with huge vertical color wheels, in which you’d bet your money on which color the wheel would stop.
Finally, in the late 1890s of slots history, there was the Liberty Bell.
Developed by Charles Fey in San Francisco, the Liberty Bell was where the machines, as we know them began.
Whether you’re playing online or offline, with three spinning reels or with five on a video screen, the Liberty Bell is where the games we play today begin.
If you were to see a Liberty Bell machine today --- and there are a few still in existence --- the first thing you’d think would be “slot machine.” There would be no wondering what this old device was about. It’s instantly recognizable as the type specimen of the games we play today.
Fey’s creation was the first recognizably modern version. Symbols on its three spinning reels included horseshoes, stars, spades, diamonds, hearts and bells. It was so popular for slots history that for a time all three-reelers were referred to as ``Bell machines.''
And while it was the first of the modern versions, the Liberty Bell was not the first of the Bell machines. Fey had an earlier creation, the Card Bell. It was a gaming device, too, but it didn’t use horseshoes, stars, bells and such. It used pictures of playing cards as its winning symbols. It was popular, but it was the Liberty Bell that captured the imaginations of the first generation of fans.
With a casing made of sheet metal on a brass frame, the Liberty Bell was durable and attractive. There was no neon, flashing lights or sound effects, but it was a game that was played by dropping a coin in the slot and pulling the handle to start the reels, just as players have been doing for more than a century.
Moving slots history forward, today it’s often a push of the button or a click of the mouse that starts those reels spinning, but the essentials of the game are there since Fey began it all in the 1890s.
Fey was a German immigrant with a background making instruments for electrical supplies companies. He set up a workshop in his basement in Berkeley, Calif. and it was there that he created many early machines.
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