The history of fruit machines

If it weren’t for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, pub fruit machines might look very different.

To understand why, you have to look back to the middle of the 1890s when Charles Fey, an American inventor, started to release the first slot machines that looked similar to the pub fruit machines we play nowadays.

But his early games were not fruit machines – because they did not feature fruits. Instead, they used symbols associated with gambling and good fortune, including horseshoes, bells and playing card suits.

So how did we get from playing cards and horseshoes to cherries and lemons? It’s all down to a day that shook the world.

San Francisco, April 18th 1906

In 1894, Charles Fey had created a three-reel one-armed bandit called Liberty Bell which is widely considered to be the blueprint for most modern-day pub fruit machines.

But at 5:12am on April 18th 1906, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit San Francisco. More than 80% of the city’s buildings – including Charles Fey’s factory and nearly all his Liberty Bell one-armed bandits were destroyed either in the quake or the fires that followed.

This did not spell the end for Fey. By 1910, he had partnered with the Mills Novelty Company and together, they produced a sequel to Liberty Bell.

The new slot machine was called Operator Bell and featured fruits on its reels, a practice that has stayed in place for more than a century since.

Like modern pub fruit machines, later versions of Operator Bell were built into a wooden cabinet, and this helped to silence any noise from its inner workings, as well as making the fruit machines easy to move around.

Bells, fruits and bars

Fruit machines usually have the same few symbols: a selection of fruits, along with bells and bars, so where did this specific combination come from?

The answer is that Operator Bell machines had the option to vend flavoured chewing gum. The flavours available were lemon, orange, cherry and plum – the symbols we see on reels to this day.

The bell was kept from the earlier Liberty Bell machine, where it had represented a jackpot. And the bar symbol? That represents a stick of gum.

Candy was a popular prize in states where gambling for cash payouts was prohibited, so other slot machine manufacturers soon started using the popular fruit symbols on their machines too – and the rest is history.

When it comes to fruit machines for your pub, club, bingo hall or even common room, Manco Automatics provides the highest quality fruit machines for the best value in the North West. Call us today on 0161 870 7777 for more information.

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