When we look back on history’s great inventors, we think of people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton, etc. Rarely does Charles Fey’s name come up, although he invented something that almost everyone has used at least a few times.
Charles Fey, a San Francisco man, invented the modern Slot Machine. He named his first machine the Liberty Bell, and went on to make several small changes to his designs over the next few years.
Charles Fey, who was born as August Fey in February, 1862, was a mechanic in San Francisco.
During his time in the city, Fey began to grow restless. He always had a creative knack, and a desire for new things.
This desire, coupled with his knowledge of mechanisms, inspired one of the gambling industry’s greatest advancements: the slot machine.
The first slot machine
The Liberty Bell, which was Fey’s very first machine, was the first gambling machine that was coin-operated and paid out in coins as well.
It was not the first machine that people could gamble on, but it was the most successful by far. The slot machine is widely considered to be the most profitable of all machine games (accounting for up to 80% of the profits of some casinos), and there are very few casinos that don’t have slots.
Charles Fey’s original slot machine used the standard 3 spinning wheels. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to patent this technology due to the patent laws at the time, and their restrictions on gaming devices.
Fey could have gotten rich from those patents, and his entire family line down would continue to receive benefits.
Without the ability to patent his ingenious creation, Fey installed his machines at bars and restaurants, and collected 50% of the proceeds. This made him a decent amount – more than enough to live on- but didn’t give him the recognition he deserved for inventing such an industry-changing device.
When Charles Fey created his Liberty Bell, the year was 1887, and gambling laws were very strict.
To get around these laws, Fey listed drinks as the prizes on his machines, even though they actually paid out coins. Later, designers added a feature to slot machines that dispensed gum or mints with every spin.
Slot machines were new, and therefore almost completely unregulated. Some states chose to ban their use, while others accepted them with open arms. As the popularity spread throughout the nation, so did the acceptance of these strange new machines.
It wasn’t until 1907 that Charles Fey finally got a decent payout for all his work.
He teamed up with Herbert Mills, who owned the Mills Novelty Company. They immediately began producing Fey’s machines in bulk.
They made a few changes to the machine, but for the most part it was Fey’s original design.
Over the years, the Mills Novelty Company produced more than 30,000 of these slot machines, and continued to produce until the demand ran dry, as newer machines began to be invented by rival companies.