In 2003, a 25-year-old software engineer called Bill Elfritz was sitting in the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas playing the Megabucks slot machine. When he fed in his last $20 into the machine, he probably wasn’t aware of the history behind the game and the origin of the symbols. In fact, Elfritz couldn’t have cared less about where the symbols came from, as long as they lined up. It turned out; the Megabucks slot would change his life. His $20 bet triggered the progressive jackpot payout of almost $40 million. Lining up on the screen were a few modern symbols along with the classic cherry fruit icon players have come to know and love.
In the early days of gambling, slot machines were all about the fruit symbols along with bars and bells. Today, modern video slots contain every conceivable theme from ancient Egypt to Alaskan fishing, alien invasions to music super stars. But among the myriad of modern themes, classic fruit slots still hold a special place in the heart of slot enthusiasts. But where did these popular bar and fruit symbols come from and how did they end up in slot machines? It turns out the fruit symbols originated from chewing gum.
Chewing Gum Dispensers
In the early 20th Century, slot machines were becoming more and more popular across the US. In those days, machines such as the Trade Simulator paid out winnings in the form of chewing gum. The fruit symbols on the reels depicted the flavour that would be paid out if you lined up the symbols. If you lined up three cherries, you would be rewarded with a pack of cherry flavoured gum. Similarly, if you lined up three melons, a green melon flavoured gum would pop out of the machine.
The idea of paying out in chewing gum was not just down to novelty. The use of chewing gum as a reward was specifically used to avoid anti-gambling laws that were in place in the US at the time. The man who ran the Industry Novelty Company, O.D Jennings referred to his machines as chewing gum dispensers with no connection to gambling whatsoever.
The Liberty Bell
These classic “Fruit Machines” were all based on the original Liberty Bell slot that was invented by Charles Fey in 1887. Considered the grandfather of slot machines, the Liberty Bell was the first mechanical gambling machine based on the game of poker. The machine featured 3 spinning reels with five symbols. These included hearts, diamonds, spades, horseshoes and the famous Liberty Bell. The bell was the first ever jackpot symbol which would pay out if three symbols lined up on the reels. The golden bell is still a popular symbol used in many slots today.
The Birth of Classic Slots
It was Fey’s next machine, the Operator Bell that saw the inclusion of fruit symbols which started a worldwide trend. Soon, casino game developers were jumping on the bandwagon improving the slot system and increasing the payouts. In 1963 Bally invented the first fruit machine with electromechanical workings. The machine called Money Honey and the payouts had to be assisted by a human attendant. Money Honey featured plenty of fruit symbols including lemons, oranges, melons and cherries. It also included an electric hopper, which could hold a lot more coins than any other machine on the market. With more coins being fed into the machine, the jackpots increased exponentially.
The 1960’s also saw the invention of a machine called Big Bertha. It was the first slot machine to introduce a 160-reel system and needed a 5-horse power engine to operate the reels. Big Bertha expanded up to eight reels and had one of the biggest jackpots of the time. Slot machine got progressively smaller and more technologically advanced. Despite all the changes to the machines themselves, the classic fruit symbols, remained stuck to the reels as a constant reminder of their beginnings.
Fruit machines hit their stride in the 1950’s and 60’s when they made their way across to England. Officially called Fruit Machines or Fruities for the first time, these classic machines were extremely popular in seaside towns and cities. Today Fruities can still be found in pubs, arcades and even in fish and chip shops. Modern fruit machines are based on the classic setup of three reels with 5 paylines. On the reels, you will find classic fruit symbols including cherries, plums, oranges lemons and strawberries. The UK machines also developed unique features such as the nude or hold feature.
History on the Reels
When slots moved online, the classic fruit slots made the transition to the digital medium without much fuss. While the scope of slots grew and the design, themes and bonus games evolved, there has always been a place for classic slots. Today, online casinos offer a wide range of classic slots where players can still see the original bells, bars and fruit symbols.