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Evolution of slots – From the 19th century to 2016

From 1800s till 2016 and going – it has been quite a journey for slot machines. It has seen many ages, and with time, slots too have evolved to match the needs of gamblers. Its ancestors have left a mark in the world of gambling and the descendants were not to be left behind.

It all started with the famous one arm bandit known as the Liberty Bell; this slot machine triggered a whole new gambling industry. Who would have known back then that this form of gambling would one day have a place at every casino around the globe!

I guess Charles Fey knew the feeling of winning, no matter how small the prize is; that may be why he came up with the idea of Liberty Bell. Money will come and go; whether you earn it with hard work or you win it in a slot game, it will eventually dry up. But, feelings don’t die; they are with us as souvenirs to remind us every good or bad thing that has happened in our lives.

The first slot gave a bubble gum as a prize and the jackpot was 50 cents or 10 nickels; even by 19th century standards, it wasn’t much, but the appeal of winning lured people by the hordes.

Slots are the oldest of gambling machines and yet hold a special place in every gambler’s heart to this day. Let’s take a look at how the slot machine paradigm has evolved over the last couple of centuries.

How it all began

It all started with a machine based on poker games developed by Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York U.S in 1891. It was a basic machine with 5 drums and a set of 50 cards. The cards could be arranged in a different manner to downsize the winning streak. The machine did not have an automatic payout mechanism, so the payoffs were made manually.

The machine soon became popular and different clubs and bars installed it to entertain their customers. The winning prizes were different at different places. Some offered free beers, cigars and other drinks, and some paid cash; whatever was feasible for the place to bear.

Charles Fey and Liberty Bell

The machine developed by Sittman and Pitt soon lost people’s attention due to some inherent flaws. Charles Fey of San Francisco came up with a simple yet an advanced idea to overcome the flaws.

The idea was to build a basic machine with just three reels instead of 5 drums and a set of ten cards was to be replaced with a symbol; in total there were 5 symbols, and 10 cards of every symbol. Horseshoe, diamonds, hearts, spades and Liberty Bell were the symbols used in the slot.

It was also known as the one arm bandit. It had a metal lever; a player had to pull down the lever to spin the reels. If the same symbols on each reel end up after the spin is complete, it’s a win and the machine would read the results and payoff the prize automatically. The smallest prize was a bubble gum and the jackpot was of 50 cents in return for a nickel.

Liberty Bell soon became popular, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that people were hypnotized by it. The machine initiated a new gambling industry. It was a colossal success.

Growing Demands

As the Liberty became a huge success and people were lured to it, the demand increased tremendously. Charles wasn’t able to fulfill them in time. He couldn’t even keep up with the demands within his own state.

The fact that Charles couldn’t manufacture enough machinery to deliver according to the need helped other manufacturers to jump in and gain some easy money. Many people copied Fey’s idea and started to manufacture their own slot machine with different names. As the demand was high they didn’t have to put in much effort to gain sales.

One of the earliest manufacturers of the slot machine after Charles was Herbert Mills of Chicago. In 1907 he manufactured his own slot in competition to Liberty Bell and named it as the Operator Bell.

Early Modification

The first modification that was made in slot machines was the replacement of symbols. When Herbert Mills started manufacturing his own slots, he couldn’t just copy the whole concept of the liberty bell slot as it was. When asked, Charles refused to sell the rights to manufacture Liberty Bell to anyone. Therefore, Herbert had to improvise to avoid any legal actions that could be taken against him.

It only took two minor alterations to resolve the problem. The first solution was that he changed the name to Operator Bell; the second change he came up with was the replacement of Symbols. Instead of using symbols of liberty Bell, he replaced them with different fruits, some of them included; cherries, plums and lemons.


Technology has covered everything, including slot machines. From the spinning of the reels to the payoffs; everything in a slot machine is now computerized.

First, the machine was installed with an electronic system; it was wired and could only be used if electricity was available. Later the slots entered the virtual world; No more reels were there, a screen was installed instead, which would display spinning reels and show the results.

Slots were further modified with 3-D displays and microprocessors. The machine is so modernized that now, most of them don’t even require coins. A paper with a barcode is inserted in the machine and that’s all it takes.


Today, slot machines have uncountable features; bonus games, free spins, jackpots, betting options, thousands of paylines, etc. You can find various kinds of features introduced in different slots, which attracts more gamblers every day.

It has been a long, but a successful journey for the slot machines. Its value hasn’t changed a bit in all those years. Slot trends are still going strong and it seems as if they are never going to end. We have witnessed many changes in these machines since the 19th century, and I am sure there is more to come in the years ahead.