JeffBet by Matthew Gover |
Date of Publishing: 27 April 2023

4.5/5 - (11 votes)

Charles Fey: The Genius Behind Liberty Bell Slot


The first slot machines invented were less sophisticated than those you will find in casinos today. However, they represented a significant milestone in the evolution of gambling technology. Before their invention, casinos offered limited games, most notably card games such as poker and blackjack with croupiers. Although these games were a source of entertainment for many, the nature of the games often made them inaccessible to the average person. The invention of Liberty Bell by Charles Fey was a step towards automation of gambling and thus attracted many players to the casino world. 

The idea of a casino game machine featuring an automatic payout system excited the public. Previously, the Horseshoe slot machine required authorised personnel to make payments to players, but this machine proved to be a successor that eliminated the need for human intervention in the payout process. This ingenious invention made future engineers explore improved technology to further automate casinos, which is why his contributions to the gambling world are significant.

Early Life And Career

Charles Fey was born in the Bavarian town of Vohringen in 1862. He left Bavaria when he was fifteen for France, where he later started working as an intercom equipment manufacturer. As a teenager, Charles was always interested in working with different mechanical equipment, so he turned this into a career. He later moved to England and further worked on manufacturing nautical instruments.

After working in Germany, Charles moved to the United States, finally settling in San Francisco. Charles married native Californian Marie Volkmar having three daughters and a son. While in California, he worked at the California Electric Works Company but later quit his job to start an electronic communication device company with some of his former colleagues. The company, Charles Fey and Amp, manufactured telephones, telegraphs and other kinds of electronic equipment. 

At the same time, Charles’s interest grew in gambling machines, and he worked on a project to customise the Horseshoe slot machine. The machine initially did not have an automatic payout, so Charles worked on improving that. In 1896, he started his slot machine workshop, which paved the way towards the invention of the Liberty Bell. 

The Invention Of The Liberty Bell Slot Machine

After starting his slot machine workshop, Fey’s interest in gambling machines grew. After the Horseshoe Machine gained popularity for automating the payout process, a newer and better machine needed to be developed to improve its design. So in 1898, Charles Fey came forward with his invention of the Liberty Bell, the first-ever automatic slot machine. This machine was considered a significant breakthrough in the casino world and soon attracted thousands of players to the casino world. 

The Liberty Bell slot machine was a three-reel slot which featured symbols, including hearts, spades, horseshoes, and the iconic Liberty Bell. The machine was named after the United States’ famous symbol of freedom. To play, the player had to deposit a nickel and pull the level, after which a random combination of symbols appeared. If the symbols that appeared in a row matched, the machine automatically paid out any winnings to the player. 

The release of Liberty Bell completely revolutionised the casino industry. Not only did an automatic casino machine make gambling simpler, but it also made it more affordable. Now players did not have to play high-stakes card games to enjoy the casino experience and could just put in a small amount to play these slots. Soon hundreds of machines were installed in bars, casinos, bowling alleys and many other flashy locations in San Francisco. 

The rise in popularity of Liberty Bell motivated more inventors to come up with inventions, leading to advancements in slot machines, as we see now, in the form of fully-automated video slots. In 1907, the Mills Novelty Company began mass production of these machines, now known as Operator Bell. With increased production, the machine was available in more places and even ventured outside the United States. The company introduced changes in the machine’s building; wooden frames replaced heavy cast iron bodies to make the machines easier to transport. The symbols were also replaced by fruit symbols

One of the first-made Liberty Bell slot machines is preserved as a historical artefact in the Nevada State Museum. A plaque was placed at 406 Market Street, where Charles Fey’s Workshop was present, and the Liberty Bell Slot machine was invented. 

Legacy And Impact

Charles Fey is considered the “Father Of Slot machines”. His legacy is still very much present in online casinos today. Over time, slot machines’  quality of graphics and gameplay improved. A century and a half later, casino enthusiasts now have access to casino games at their fingertips via mobile casinos. So, it is fair to say that the Liberty Bell left a mark on the casino industry. 

With the changing accessibility of gambling, slots have also impacted casino players’ behaviour. Card games were traditionally a slow-paced form of gambling and were not viewed as being accessible. Now, these slots are easy to play, and as a result, people predisposed to having a gambling problem have access to these games where it is possible to lose vast amounts of money in a short space of time.

Irresponsible gambling behaviour is one of the negative impacts of slot-machine gambling. These machines’ visual appeal and sound effects act as a trap for the players, making them spend excessive money on gambling and disrupting their financial and emotional health. 


Charles Fey had a remarkable life journey. For a man of his time, he was very well-travelled, growing up in a small town in Bavaria and spending some time in England before eventually settling in San Francisco, where he carried out the work that would result in his notoriety. Throughout his work life, he honed his skills and left his mark on the casino industry.  

His idea for automating slot machines set the ground roots for today’s numerous online casinos. Liberty Bell made history, had a long-lasting impact on the casino world, and started an era of machine-run casinos.

About the Author

Author: Matthew Gover.

After graduating, Matthew began working as an English teacher abroad, initially in Spain and then Vietnam before finally coming back to the UK to settle. Matthew has always had a love for writing and an even bigger love for the igaming industry... Read More

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