The origin of slot machines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I know most of you have heard of casinos and the slot machine. But how many of you really know how the slot machine came about? Well, let me tell you a little about its origin.

During the early 1800s, gambling on riverboats along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers became fashionable. From New Orleans to Cincinnati and all points in between, these places were high society gambling palaces. It was said the women strolled the outside decks while waiting on their male companions, who were inside the ship’s smoky parlors. The men were said to be chasing their dreams of fame and fortune.

In 1895, the invention of the first slot machine came about by a man named Charles Fey. In 1907, Fey got together with the Mills Novelty Co. and manufactured a slot machine called Mills Liberty Bell. The first machine displayed playing cards — king, queen and jack — and was given the nickname “One-Armed Bandit.” This nickname was given to this machine because of the one handle you pulled to play, and most of the time the machines left you broke.

The first machines were made of cast iron, weighing over 100 pounds, and over 30,000 were made. In 1915, the heavy machines were replaced by machines that had wooden cabinets and legs. In the 1930s machines were made less noisy and were referred to as “silent bell.” Machines from the 1930s to present date have been changed and upgraded to what you see in the casinos today.

Just a few days ago, I was lucky enough to find someone that had an old machine for sale. It was a nickel machine from the 1940s and is now on display at the Louisiana Treasures Museum. I don’t think that you could get rich from a jackpot win on this machine, as the payoff was a grand total of $15.

So the next time you go inside a casino or have the chance to see slot machines, just take a look at them and remember that Charles Fey started all this in 1895.

Louisiana Treasures Museum is located on Highway 22-West of Ponchatoula, and Wayne Norwood can be reached at 225-294-8352 for hours of operation or to schedule tours.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.