Liberty Bell: how the first slot machine was created

It is a well-known fact that fruit machines are widely played all over the world. In fact, they are the most popular gambling method in casinos, and make about 70 percent of casino’s income.

The other names of this game are: one-armed bandits, fruit machine, a wheel of fortune, poker machine or simply “pokies”, and simply slot machine or slot. They are really exciting to play and, what is more important, they are rather simple to win. The other not less important criteria of the huge slots popularity are the following:

  • It offers lots of fun and it can brighten up your mood;
  • You may train your brain and spend some time relaxing;
  • You may hit gigantic jackpots. There were cases when the players managed to win millions of dollars.

So, there is no wonder why they are so popular these days. Indeed, today every respected gambler feels the necessity to try slots. However, not everyone knows what the very first machine was and when it was created. This article will take a closer look at this primary wheel of fortune.

The Liberty Bell Slot Machine History

With the popularity of slots, many people ask the question, “The very first slot machine to appear in history was developed by whom?”. Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell is considered the starting point for the slots available today. However, its roots can be retraced to gaming devices invented in 1891 by Sittman and Pitt, a company based in the Big Apple. The game was similar to the modern-day video poker machine more than the slot. It featured five drums that functioned as reels, and they carried fifty playing cards.

Players activated gameplay in the first slot machine by putting in a nickel and pulling the lever to the side. Payouts were awarded when a winning poker hand lined up on the drums. The house increased its edge by removing the jack of hearts and ten of spades cards, cutting the chances of landing a royal flash by half. Winnings were paid out over the counter as cigars and free drinks.
liberty bell slot
Charles Fey is still considered the man who invented the slot machine since he developed games that resemble the modern slot better than Sittman and Pitt’s creation. However, it is unclear when slot machines were invented, and it is rumored to have been somewhere between 1887 and 1895. Charles Fey’s machine paid for combinations of three symbols, and the bell was the most valuable one. This earned the gambling machines the name Liberty Bell slot machines. Since Fey did not patent the device, many companies adopted the Liberty Bell casino slot design and popularized it across the United States.

How Liberty Bell Slot Machine Worked?

Liberty Bell slot machines were entirely mechanical, but they had some differences from the Sittman and Pitt gaming machine. Charles Fey replaced the five drums with three reels that revealed five symbols (spades, diamonds, hearts, horseshoes, and a liberty bell) instead of the fifty playing cards. Players won when three similar symbols appeared on all three reels, and the bells offered the highest wins. This feature earned them the name Liberty Bell slot machine. Since the number of symbols had reduced significantly, so had the complexity of the machine’s ability to read a win. Therefore, the games paid out immediately in coins instead of depending on drinks and cigars over the counter.

Slots Evolution So Far

The history of slot machines has come a long way since the age of Liberty Bell slot machines, and the most notable changes are:

Fruit Machines

The next defining moment for these games came in 1902, when the government banned the provision of real money winnings from slots. However, the manufacture of Liberty Bell slots continued, but they eliminated cash prizes and the five classic symbols. Fruit symbols replaced the icons, and when they activated winning combinations, they awarded sweets and chewing gum in the corresponding flavor.

The Herbert Mills Liberty Bell slot games thrived during this era when they created the Operator Bell. The BAR symbol was invented during this era and was designed from the Bell-Fruit company logo. The ban lasted until 1908 when it was lifted, and the Herbert Mills Liberty Bell slot games resumed their provision of real money payouts.

Electromechanical Pokies

mills liberty bell
Liberty Bell slots remained the same for more than five decades until the following significant change rolled by in 1964. Throughout slot machine history up until this time, the games were purely mechanical. Punters needed to pull down a lever placed on the side to send the reels into motion. The lever stretched a spring within the gaming device that eventually stopped the playtable from spinning. This manual step made players feel that they had some control over slot wins even if they did not. The lever earned them the name “one-armed bandits.”

In 1964, Bally released Money Honey, the first electromechanical pokie that stepped away from the Liberty Belle slots. The reels run on electricity, but manufacturers retained the lever to commence gameplay. Removing this element would be too foreign for players, but it was eventually phased out as more slot developers went the electromechanical way. Money Honey also introduced the bottomless hopper that paid up to 500 coins automatically.

Video Slots

Fortune Coin made 1976 a memorable year in the history of slots by introducing the first-ever three-reel slot machine with video technology. The set ran on a 19” Sony TV modified for gameplay, and it was featured on the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel casino floor. The gaming machine underwent several changes to modify and cheat-proof it before the Nevada State Gaming Commission gave the go-ahead for its mass production.
liberty bell slot machine

Bonus Features

Williams Interactive introduced the next notable milestone by releasing the Reel ‘Em Slot. This slot machine featured a second screen bonus that, when triggered, would take players to another screen to play out. The bonus offered a chance at more winnings beyond payline combinations. The games became so popular that at some point, they took up 70% of available floor space and covered the same rate of casinos’ income.

The Variety of Modern Slots

The internet boom since the mid-nineties has led to the development of modern slots in the thousands. Software developers have become bolder in their exploits to create numerous different categories to entertain players, including:

  • Video slots: Video slots have soared to new popularity heights since Fortune Coin introduced them. Today, nearly all released pokies are video slot machines. They feature colorful images and animations.
  • 3D slots: 3D slots often feature imagery that makes them look three-dimensional. The slots have images that try to emulate real-life items to look like they would leap off the screen.
  • Progressive slots: Progressive slots are the highest-paying of all modern slots. These games feature pots that are fed by a portion of players’ bets. The jackpot amount continues to grow until a lucky player triggers their winning combination or bonus. The pot resets and starts growing again.
  • Classic slots: These slots draw inspiration from traditional three-reel slot machines. The games can also feature five reels, but the symbols they use point back to the classic fruit and Liberty Belle slot machines.


It is interesting to note that you can still see the original machine at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant in Reno, Nevada. It included three reels with horseshoes, a cracked Liberty Bell symbol, and the pictures of three card suits: hearts, diamonds, and spades. One had to pull the lever to spin the reels. Hence, the reels stopped on the varying symbol combinations after every spin. The player received coins once three same symbols appeared in a row. The gamer got the biggest payout of 50 cents or 10 nickels once three Liberty bells appeared in a row. Afterwards, the winning combination came out and then, the bell rang and the machine ejected coins.

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