Slots were first invented in 1895 by mechanic Charles Fey, whether he was the first person to invent the concept of the slot machine, or just the first to actually build and market them, is unclear, but if you love playing slots like Jokers Jewels, then history tells us he is the one you have to thank.
The first slot machine was mechanical in nature, and each spin was activated by a pull of a lever that was built into the side of the machine. This early effort consisted of 3 reels and contained five symbols that included playing card faces such as Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Horseshoe.
The most valuable symbol was the Liberty Bell and his invention actually became known as the Liberty Bell slot machine. New York inventors Sittman and Pitt upped the ante by inventing a slot machine that held 50 symbols, again these symbols kept with the playing card theme.
Gambling Bans and new Symbols
What early slots developers were not expecting was an outright gambling ban to hinder the progress in slot machine development. In the early 1900s, all forms of gambling were outlawed. These led to the history of slot symbols taking an unexpected turn. Instead of gathering dust, slot machines were modified and turned into vending machines. For this to be done successfully, all symbols associated with playing cards had to go.
The substitutes for these symbols were family-friendly symbols such as fruits and non-cash prizes such as sweets were the new rewards for lining up favourable symbols on the reels. The fruits were Cherries, Plums, Lemons, Melons, and Apples. In 1910, the Mills Novelty Company released a gum dispensing vending machine and this came loaded with a new Bar symbol that was added to the fruits.
Even when the gambling bans were lifted, the fruit symbols had become so embedded in the culture of slots, that they still remained in place. The difference was that the traditional playing card faces such as the 10, Ace, King, Jack, and Queen made a return to the reels. Eventually, the lucky number 7 was added to the playing card faces and this became one of the most sought-after symbols on the reels.
In 1963, a slot named Money Honey heralded the introduction of the first electrical slot. In 1976 the first video slot of sorts was introduced, and this spelled the beginning of the end for mechanical slot machines. Video slot technology allowed for far more symbols to be introduced to slot machines and these included Stars, Crowns, 777, and Gems.
Thanks to the digital revolution, slots have been online since 1996 and this new technology has allowed for a vast array of new symbols to overtake those that are seen as being traditional.
- The first slots symbols were mostly playing card faces
- Gambling bans forced new symbols on slots, and these took the form of fruits
- Video slot technology has allowed for more types of symbols
The slot symbols today are a world away from their ancestors, there are sticky wilds, expanding symbols, symbols based on TV and film characters, but amongst all these, there is still room for fruits, bells, and playing card faces.