Modern society has been built by inventors experimenting with various tools and entrepreneurs making it a viable business. Charles August Fey fits both of these categories have been the one to invent and market some of the first slot machines ever created.
Today, slots are ubiquitous, found in nearly every casino on the planet, also in betting shops, repair shops, and pubs and bars. They can also be played over the internet via smartphones, tablets, and computers. The online casinos that offer these video slots often churn out hundreds of different titles for their customers to choose from, including their own exclusives such as Amazon Rayne, Tomb of Ra, and Fiesta De San Fermin.
But it was far from the original mechanical device developed and promoted by Fey and his contemporaries. And although others had the idea earlier, Fey is widely credited with being the inventor of the modern slot machine when he introduced several important innovations that allowed it to become so widespread.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Born in Vöhringen, Bavaria in September 1862, Fey was originally named August, although he was replaced by Charles when he eventually moved to the United States. His journey to North America was indirect, he began his career working in a business that manufactured farm equipment, enabling him to develop the essential skills that would shape the rest of his life.
After a few years, Fey jumped the border into France and then across the Channel to England. However, with relatives in New Jersey, he traveled to the US to live with his uncle, Martin Vollman.
But when Vollman returned to Germany, Fey was almost completely alone in North America, so he decided to travel across the country. Like other entrepreneurs, such as Dave Hester, he eventually settled in California.
In a common setback for the time, Fey contracted tuberculosis and his doctors only gave him a year to live. With nothing to lose, he headed south to Mexico, where the climate was even warmer. He then went on creosote treatment in San Francisco, which seems to have cured his TB.
Following the American Dream, Fey quit his job at Western Electric Works and started his own company to service the telephones and electrical equipment still rolling out across the country. A few years later, in 1896, he also opened a workshop where he would build his first slot machine.
Slot machines have been around since the 1880s, although they were required to have attendants who would check the position of the reels and manually award payouts to players. This was a factor that severely limited their growth as labor costs meant they couldn’t be scaled up.
Gustav Freidrich Willhelm Schultze created a solution for this in 1893. His Horseshoe Slot machine had an automatic payout system, although this prize was usually in the form of tokens or tickets.
Fey took the idea one step further, creating a mechanism that paid out coins, as was commonplace today. He added this feature to his Liberty Bell Slot Machine, a name that refers to the three bells that, if landed, paid a jackpot of 50 cents.
The Liberty Bell was a huge hit with bar and shop patrons, so Fey struck a deal with the business owner where he would supply the machine free of charge in exchange for a 50% share of the profits.
This win-win proposition allowed Fey to become one of the largest slot machine operators in the entire United States in the early 20th century.
California law at the time prevented Fey from obtaining a patent for his Liberty Bell machine, which allowed other businesspeople to legally copy his ideas. While he managed to a garner a lot of traction himself, this meant that Fey faced a lot of competition in the slots business.
Not only did they copy the mechanics of the Liberty Bell, but many other slot manufacturers used similar imagery on their reels, forever cementing the bell as one of the most common symbols in the game to this day.
Because of its invention, slot games are known today, even with the development of technology and the internet, anyone can easily find slot games via their smartphone. One of the most popular games is Olympus Slot, which is taken from Ancient Greek Mythology.