The History of Slot Machines: Discover the Origins of Slots

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From humble beginnings in the 19th century, the history of slot machines shows how far these popular casino games have come. The first slot machines were invented in the United States. Bettors would play slot games in person and licenced brick-and-mortar casinos.

However, with the progression of technology, internet casino sites rapidly progressed machine slots online. Consequently, bettors are now able to enjoy more varied and diverse slot games than ever before at their favourite betting sites.

In this slots history guide, you can discover how slot games have progressed and developed since the 1800s. To learn more about enjoying these games today, check out how to play slots online.

Stay tuned and read more about the history of slot machines.

The Origins of the Slot Machine

While you are playing modern online slots, you might ask yourself when were the first slot machines invented? Or even who invented the slot machine? In the late 19th century, Sittman and Pitt invented the game of the first slot machine.

Initially, a first time slot machine player inserted a coin and spun the five drums, which showed 50 cards from a 52-card deck. It was the first mechanical slot machine. However, players would exchange winnings for beer or cigarettes in the slot, which wasn’t designed to pay real money.

Then, Charles August Fey developed the original slot machine to provide monetary payouts. Moreover, Fey’s version had three reels and five symbols. Curiously, casinos still use these symbols (horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell) today, in modern slot machines.

In the 20th century, slot games had several developments, such as more symbols and the infamous lever pull. Even so, Sitmann and Pitt, and later Fey, are considered to be the founding fathers of the slot machine.

Liberty bell

When Were Slot Machines Invented?

In 1891, Sittman and Pitt invented the first slot machine, while in 1894, Fey reportedly made his additions. In the early 20th century, some people made further adjustments to change the history of slot machines.

For instance, Herbert Mills created the Operator Bell slots. Ultimately, Mills provided iconic symbols to previous slot prototypes to enhance the gaming experience. Such symbols include cherries and the BAR icon.

Slot machines experienced significant advancements in the mid-late 20th century. Firstly, the first electromechanical slot was introduced in 1963. While the basics of the slot game remained, the machine would now automatically distribute winning payments to players instead of clerks or attendants handling the payouts.

In 1976, the Fortune Coin Company created the first-ever video slot. Bettors played this game, Fortune Coin, on a 9-inch Sony TV. Ultimately, this invention would change the future of slot games forever, as players could insert coins and play via screens for the very first time.

The Future Coin video games became common in US casinos. But another big development followed two decades later. In 1994, the Reel ’Em In game introduced the progressive jackpot bonus game. Here, players could play traditional slots, but experience spin-off games for jackpot rewards.

Lastly, Microgaming developed the first-ever online progressive jackpot slot in 1998. This invention changed the course of slot game history. For the first time ever, bettors could play slot games on their computer via the internet with real money.

Who Invented the First Slot Machine?

Despite the evolution of slots, there is historical debate about who invented slot machines. The company Sittman and Pitt introduced their version of the first slot machine in 1891. However, Fey reportedly created his slot game anywhere between 1887 and 1895.

Although the slot machine inventors created their games at a similar time, they had very different designs. For instance, Fey’s invention was the first slot game to introduce the automatic payout method – a central feature that any first-time slot machine player will notice.

In addition, the original slot machine games varied based on their game type. The Sittman and Pitt game was based on poker. But Fey’s 4-11-44 creation was similar to the popular Policy gambling game of the late 19th century.

The Fruit Machine Era

In 1902, gambling machines were banned, halting the slot machine boom in the US. Alternatively, Mills introduced the fruit machine, which actually dispensed real fruit candies and gum, rather than money.

Initially, the fruit symbols on the slots represented the flavour of candy or gum players could win. Little did Mills know, these symbols would become iconic in modern slot machines. In addition, the synonymous bell symbol came from the company that made and distributed the machines through Chicago called Liberty Bell.

The first fruit machine game in the early 20th century was a defining step in the history of slot machines. Ultimately, the fruit symbols proved to be so popular that they were famous in slot machine expansion worldwide.

In particular,1990s fruit machines were popular in the UK and these physical games still exist in the nation. Moreover, global players will be familiar with the cherries, lemons and watermelons in traditional slot games.

The Evolution of Online Slots

Generally, the evolution of physical slot machines was slow between the 1890s and the late 20th century. However, the opposite has occurred with machine slots online.

Since Microgaming’s first-ever online slot game in 1998, called Cash Splash, the online slots industry has boomed. Ultimately, this rapid development coincided with the rise of online casinos in 1994.

Initially, online slots were similar to in-person games and fruit machines. Bettors played by clicking a spin button to reveal combinations on the screen.

Yet, modern developments from some of the industry’s leading igaming developers have enhanced the slot-playing experience. Firstly, developers have introduced several bonus features over the last two decades. These include free spins, progressive jackpot games, wild symbols, scatters and multipliers.

Such features have sped up the evolution of slot history and you can now find any game to suit your preference for bonuses, themes or gameplay. In the table below, you can view some of the most common modern slot machine features online.

Slot FeatureBonus or Reward
Wild symbolsUnlock multipliers, free spins, or special-themed bonuses.
Scatter symbolsSpin to reveal a scatter that could provide free spins, jackpot games or multipliers.
CascadesA cascade feature can replace all existing symbols with new ones, creating a cascading effect on the playing screen.
Expanding reelsSome modern online slots have expanding reels, where new reels are added to increase potential pay lines.
Progressive jackpotsIf you spin and reveal a special wild or scatter, a different, spin-off game might load. This offers free spins, respins or themed jackpot games.

Discover the Best Slot Games at DiscoverSlots

The history of slot machines has led bettors to the modern era of online casinos and mobile slot gaming. Yet, slot development from some of the biggest igaming companies continues today.

Consequently, the competition between igaming companies led to increased variety and quality of online slots. If you would like to learn more about the best slot sites in the UK and their collection of games, check out our site reviews.

Slot Machines History: Conclusion

Overall, the history of slot machines shows how these popular games have developed since the late 1800s. What began as a humble gambling machine with five drums and fewer symbols, has grown into a global industry. 

Presently, bettors can find hundreds of thousands of machine slots online with varying gameplay, bonuses and themes.The experience has slowly become more immersive and dynamic with impressive graphics and engaging storylines.

However, it is useful to know how and why slot games were invented over a century ago. A better understanding of slot games can support your betting choices and lead to more knowledgeable and informed decisions.

Below, you can view our overview of why it’s important to know about the history of slot machines.

Understand how slot games work and how they can develop in the future.Slot games and advancements develop quickly – knowing more about the future of slots may be helpful. 
Discover how online slots have developed to provide various bonuses and jackpots.
Identify how common symbols are still used in online slot games.


Lastly, you can find answers to some of the most common questions about the history of slot machines. Read attentively.

There is a discussion about when the first slot machine was invented. Sittman and Pitt invented their slot game in 1891. However, Fey created his slot between 1887-1894. As a result, there is a dispute about exactly when the first slot was invented.

The slot gambling machine was invented by Sittman and Pitt company, with Charles August Fey also contributing to its invention.

Slot machines began with five drums that spun to reveal winning poker hands. Then bettors exchanged winning hands for alcohol or cigarettes. Fey added other symbols and automatic payouts to 19th-century slots.

Further developments came in the second half of the 20th century. Electromechanical slots were introduced in 1963 and video slots were invented in 1976. Lastly, online slot games were created by Microgaming in 1998.

Herbert Mills added fruit symbols to slot machines, which led to the invention of fruit machine games. In the 1990s, fruit machines were particularly popular in the UK, also introduced in video slot machines.

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