How Did the Symbols on Slot Machines Originate?

13 May 2018

We all know that on slot machines 2018 there are any number of symbols that are used to win.  The internet is a new concept compared to a slot machine yet some of the original symbols are still popular and  in use today.  So how did these symbols originate?

If you list casino sites you will find these symbols coming up again and again.  Let’s take the bell symbol, as a starting point.  You might imagine – and it’s a good guess – that as church bells are rung by the winning side at the end of a war, that they are a symbol of victory.

In fact, in the 1800s the first three-reel slot machine game was invented by a Charles Frey and the name he gave it was the Liberty Bell – no guessing what the winning line was.  This first design was duplicated by many in the game’s development and the bell was retained in those new designs and is still with us today.

The bar symbol is a little less obvious.  We might think that they represent bars of gold but strangely enough they represent a pack of chewing gum!  It was the logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company.  So why on earth would this symbol appear on a slot machine?

The answer lies in the gambling laws in some US states in the late 1800s where betting was prohibited altogether.  Even normal vending machines were regarded with some suspicion by some law-makers.  If cash prizes were given then the manufacturers of the machines (not to mention those who rented them for use in their establishments) would be liable to prosecution.  So they decided that the prize would be… chewing gum!

This not only explains the presence of the bar symbol on slot machines but also the addition of fruit which appeared at the same time.  You may have already guessed that the cherry, melon and other fruit that appeared on the reels were indicative of the flavour of gum the winner would receive in recompense for the penny they had placed in the machine.

As an interesting historical aside, the original Liberty Bell slot machines are incredibly rare today.  These original machines (there were only 100 in the original batch) were distributed in and around San Francisco.  In 1906 a massive earthquake struck destroying much of the city and most of the original Liberty Bell machines.  To say that these are now collectors’ items is a massive understatement.

So next time you’re about to use a slot machine online, you can reflect how far we have come.  Yet from simple wooden boxes to the complexity of the internet these symbols have persevered and no doubt will still be around in hundreds of years.

Fist picture Image Credit

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