Jump to content

Charles Fey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Liberty Bell Slot Machine memorial, San Francisco

Charles Fey (born August Fey in Vöhringen, Kingdom of Bavaria; September 9, 1862 [1] – November 10, 1944) was a San Francisco mechanic best known for inventing the slot machine.

Career and invention[edit]

Fey's Liberty Bell slot machine

His father Karl worked as a sexton at the Ulm Minster cathedral and had fifteen children with Charles' mother Maria.[2] As a teenager, Fey worked for a farming tool manufacturer, gaining his first skills, which heavily influenced his career.[3]

In 1877,[3] Charles Fey moved to France to work there, and spent some time in England too, before leaving for the United States at age twenty-three, where his uncle lived in New Jersey.[4]

Fey traveled all over the USA and settled in San Francisco, California where he started working at the Western Electric Works company in 1885.[5] Later he started his own company together with Theodore Holtz and Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze: this company worked with electrical equipment and telephones.

In the 1880s, slot machines required an attendant to make a payout, usually tickets or tokens. Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Schultze's "Horseshoe Slot Machine" of 1893 was the first machine to include an automatic payout mechanism.[4] In 1895, Fey invented a modified version of the Horseshoe that paid out coins; this machine became incredibly popular.

Fey opened a slot machine workshop in 1896[6] or 1897.[4]

In 1898, he designed the "Liberty Bell Slot Machine," the most famous slot machine of its day. When three bells aligned, it paid fifty cents. Fey installed and managed his machines in saloons throughout San Francisco. Because gambling was illegal in California, Fey could not patent his device, leading to many competitors.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Plaque marking Fey's birthplace in Vöhringen

In San Francisco, Fey met Marie Christine Volkmar (1866–1942), but their courtship was interrupted by illness. In the early 1880s, Fey had been diagnosed with tuberculosis; in accordance with scientific knowledge at the time, he moved to a warmer climate (Mexico) for a few years, before returning to San Francisco for a series of creosote treatments, which were successful. He married Marie in 1889. The couple had three daughters and one son.[4]

During this time, Fey changed his name from August to Charles, supposedly because he did not like the nickname "Gus."[4]

After settling in San Francisco, he stayed there except for a brief spell in Mexico, to recover from a bout of tuberculosis in a warmer climate.[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • Marshall Fey: Slot Machines: A pictorial history of the first 100 years of the world's most popular coin-operated gaming device. Liberty Belle Books, Reno (Nevada) 1989, ISBN 978-0-962385-20-9.
  • Gerhard Reiter: Charles Fey. Erfinder der Liberty Bell Slot Machine. In: Geschichte im Landkreis Neu-Ulm, Landkreis Neu-Ulm, Series: Geschichte im Landkreis Neu-Ulm, 5. Jahrgang 1999, ISBN 3-9804730-5-8, S. 131–138.


  1. ^ "California Death Index". Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
  2. ^ "Charles August Fey".
  3. ^ a b c "Charles Fey – The inventor of the slot machine". Wink. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Wohlers, Tony and Eric Schmaltz. "Charles August Fey." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified March 25, 2014.
  5. ^ Charles Fey History and Biography Archived June 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Charles Fey at SlotsMachinesHistory.com

External links[edit]