June 24, 2016
Atlantic City and Las Vegas could very well be the US gambling capital these days. However, the iconic betting icon of these cities was actually conceived in San Francisco in 1893 - the slots machine. The first ever machine of this kind was invented by Gustav Schultze. His horseshoe games paid out two nickels if the wheel lands on any of the ten horseshoes. If it wheel lands on a joker, players get one free drink, while the rest of the 14 symbols did not have any corresponding prize. Schultze's friend Charles Fey made his own version of the game in 1894. He named this game 4-11-44. He built the machine in his basement using wood and first mounted it in a local saloon. With the enthusiastic response he got from the people, he soon found himself concentrating on the manufacture of what we would consider these days as antique slot machines.
The new era for these antique slot machines came in 1898 when the Card Bell was invented by Fey. It was the first ever machine that was able to pay winners automatically. A year later, the machine evolved to become the Liberty Bell, which Fey just created about a hundred. The machines had a metal case and featured a cast iron arm as well as a horizontal window that showed the symbols on the inner reels. If a player hits three bells, he gets 20 coins while a star and two horseshoe rewards him with four coins. Before he realized it, Fey became a competitor for large Eastern manufacturers like Mills and Watling, who named their machines with catchy titles like California Bear with the intention of making it more attractive to players. On the home front, Fey's competitors include Royal Novelty and, obviously, Schultze.
Almost right from the start, monetary payouts were prohibited. There were some time when these antique slot machines paid gamers trade checks, but this was also prohibited in 1902. Interestingly, it was around this time that a specialized slots device escaped the regulation. Named the trade stimulator, its payment was in the form of cigars and it isn't by accident that San Francisco Police Commissioner Moses Gunst had a number of cigar shops.
Majority of the manufacturer's factories were destroyed in an earthquake in 1906 and these machines were banned altogether in California by 1911. In order to survive, the manufacturers overhauled their designs and converted then into vending machines for gum.
Fast-forward to the 1930s, which became an important era for antique slot machines collectors, Bally was formed. The company created the Double Bell, which permitted the player to put a nickel on one side then a quarter on the opposite side. After World War II, Nevada became the emerging market for gambling. The state legalized it and the market became stronger after license and tax laws were improved in 1945.
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