The Story Behind The Inventors Of The Slot Machine

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You might think you know everything there is to know about slot machines if you know how to play them and enjoy them at www.starslots.com. You might not have considered that there is a history behind them, and that that history is particularly interesting.

Only there it and it is. So although you don’t have to know where slot machines came from and what caused them to be invented in order to love playing them or understand the mechanics (digital or physical) of such a game, it is intriguing, and it’s always good to have more knowledge about all kinds of things, slot machines included. 

The story of the slot machine and its inventor starts in Bavaria in 1862. Augustinus Charles Fey was born in this year, the youngest of sixteen children. He was born in the village of Vohringen in Bavaria, which is located right at the foot of the Alps. This boy was fascinated by mechanics and finding out how things worked from an early age, and he soon followed many of his brother into a Munich based farm tool factory. 

 

However, when Augustinus was fifteen, he left his job in the factor and ran away from home – he didn’t want to serve in the military, and was worried that his father, who had a reputation for being strict, would make him. Augustinus walked all the way to England (around 750 miles) over a number of years (plus, of course, he had to cross the English Channel) and settled down there to make nautical instruments. 

 

But this was not where Augustinus wanted to stay. His mother’s brother had emigrated to American many years earlier, and was now a rather successful businessman in New Jersey. Augustinus’ plan was to save up his money and then go to join his uncle in the USA. For some reason, the plans changed and instead of heading to New Jersey, Augustinus decided that San Francisco was the place for him. Was it because it was considered a ‘lawless’ town with lots of brothels and gambling dens that the authorities did nothing about? Did young Augustinus spy an opportunity, or did it just look like fun? The answers to these questions are lost now, but that’s where he went and that’s where he stayed. 

 

Augustinus – who was now going by the name of Charles Fey – got a job with the California Electric Works. He met and fell in love with Marie Christine Volkmar (they married in 1889 and had four children), and he made good friends with a German man named Theodore Holtz at this time too. 

 

Settled and happy, Charles started inventing new machines with the aim of making money. He had seen how the gambling halls used ‘nickel-in-the-slot’ machines and how popular they were, but he knew he could make them much better. Nickel-in-the-slot machines were very much like vending machines that would give out drink tokens or cigars. They all needed someone on hand to give you your prize, but despite this little drawback (it meant they couldn’t be played all the time) they were still play a lot, with the most popular being a poker machine that used real cards. 

 

Thanks to Theodore Holtz, Charles had been introduced to a man named Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze who had already patented a ‘coin controlled apparatus’ which he called the Horseshoe. This patent was an historic one, being the very first that was issued for a gambling machine. 

 

Fey like the look of the machine and loved the idea behind it, and inspired by the Horseshoe, he went to work on creating his own similar but different gambling machine. Just one year later, in 1894, Fey came up with his own version. It was essentially the same as the Horseshoe, only it had a different (and better) reel in it. He and Holtz set up Holtz and Fey Electric Works and started making more machines. In 1985 they came up with the 4-11-44 (based on a winning sequence of just those numbers), and it was this machine that meant that Fey is most often credited for creating the modern slot machine rather than Holtz or, indeed, Schultze. The 4-11-44 was the first to give out real coins as a prize automatically. No more tokens and no more human intervention were needed. 

 

It was, of course, a huge hit and made Fey and Holtz a lot of money. However, Fey decided that he would rather work alone and sold his share of the company to Holtz before setting up Charles Fey and Company. 

 

In 1897, Fey’s fame was sealed and the title of the ‘Thomas Edison of slot machines’ was bestowed on him by the media. How? Why? Because he came up with the Liberty Bell slot machine which would become, essentially, the basis of all other slot machines from then on. 

 

Now, it should be mentioned that even though Fey was making money from slots, and even though patents had been agreed, technically these machines were illegal, as gambling as a whole was illegal and had been since 1893. That didn’t stop Fey, though. He went back to the original idea of giving out non-monetary prizes such as those drinks tokens or even gum. The difference was that this was all automated, making it easier to play the machines at any time of the day or night. And as soon as the gambling restrictions were lifted, Fey made sure that his slots gave out coins once more. 

 

The gambling restrictions also meant that patents wouldn’t be awarded anymore, and older patents were essentially worthless. Ideas were stolen all the time because there was nothing to stop them from being appropriated. Fey didn’t really need to worry about that – he was such a good salesman, and had made such a name for himself, that he was able to do very well out of his machines. 

 

Interestingly, Fey never sold or leased any of his machines. He worked on a commission basis, making a deal with each of the bars and shops and gambling halls they were placed into that he would take fifty percent of the profits. This was, of course, a clever idea – he was guaranteed an income for life, and a hefty one at that. 

 

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