Like any other avocation or hobby, collecting antique slot machines is largely a labor of love. No, there isn’t a lot of money in it, and other hobbies, like art collecting or stamps, are undoubtedly more profitable and prestigious. But for those who fall in love with the one-armed bandit, there really is no substitute.
The History of Slot Machines
For those of you who are merely curious and don’t know the story of the slot machine in America, we are going to give you a brief tutorial. The slot machine was invented in 1895 by a mechanic from San Francisco by the name of Charles Fey. Few people know what inspired the industrious Mr. Fey to invent an entertainment machine when his business was the internal combustion engine, but nevertheless, he did!
His first and undeniably most popular effort was the Liberty Bell Slot Machine. It was a nickel slot that had three spinning wheels, each of them adorned with hearts, spades, diamonds, as well as the image of a cracked liberty bell. When identical suits or bells lined up, the player would win a small prize. Although it was nothing like the jackpots we know today. In fact, you couldn’t even call the top prize a jackpot with a straight face, as it was only fifty cents!
Even so, the machine was an instant success and Fey was able to quit his job and devote himself to making slot machines full time. Still, Fey was not able to keep up with increased demand as it seemed every bar and saloon in the area, and later the state, just had to get their hands on one of his machines.
Demand was so high for a time that Fey was able to negotiate an unheard of 50/50 split of all profits from bar owners who were renting his machines. Yes, renting. He did not allow establishments to purchase his devices, since then they would be able to keep all of the profits. It was a hard pill to swallow for local business owners, but since Fey was the only game in town, they could either take it or leave it. More often than not, they took it.
After several years of solo success, Fey was besieged by repeated licensing and manufacturing offers from businesses who wanted to produce their own versions of his famous machine. Time and time again he refused them, until finally a competitor by the name of Herbert Mills decided there was nothing stopping him from making his own machine.
Shortly thereafter, Mills offered his own machine, which eventually became the most famous version, as he substituted images of fruit (oranges, cherries, lemons) for card suits and Liberty Bells.