As you’re depositing funds into your online account and spinning the reels of your favourite slots game, have you ever stopped to think just why there are so many cherries involved in the machines? Thinking about it, why do slot machines use any fruit symbols? Is the humble cherry an ancient symbol of wealth? Is it because winning the jackpot is the cherry on the cake?
Well, to understand why, we have to delve into history. You see, nowadays, slot machines are gambling devices – play Aloha Slot here. However, at first, they weren’t slot machines. In truth, they weren’t even always fruit machines.
Back to the beginning
You’ll have probably heard about Charles Fey and his Liberty Bell at some stage. He’s the one credited with inventing and developing an “automatic mechanism” with three spinning reels containing a total of five symbols back in the 1890s. The symbols? Horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and the famous Liberty Bell.
However, it was at this time that legal restrictions on slot machines were starting to come into force. Gambling laws stateside were tightening up and ignorantia juris non excusat didn’t cut the mustard. Over 3000 slot machines were banned in San Francisco alone in 1909.
To circumvent these new laws against slot machines, manufacturers began turning their gambling devices into chewing gum dispensers.
Therefore, a similar machine was developed with the option of vending flavoured gum. As the gum you could potentially vend was fruit-flavoured, fruit symbols were placed on the reels replacing some of the original symbols. What were the new symbols? You’ve guessed it. Lemons, cherries, oranges, and plums – all the flavours of gum you could get.
These first fruit machines appeared in America in the early 20th Century. But it wasn’t chewing gum that was the focus of these machines. They were deliberately used as rewards in order to avoid anti-gambling laws that existed in many American states at the time.
The ruse went so far as O.D. Jennings, who ran the Industry Novelty Company, calling his machine a ‘chewing gum dispenser’.
A modern twist
Anyway, with the machines’ bright appearance, cartoonish graphics and prize giveaways, fruit machines looked innocent enough to sneak their way into any grocery store from Connecticut to California and as they were supposedly only able to dispense gum, the line between gambling and the vending machine became completely blurred.
Wherever there’s money to be made, things don’t stand very still for too long. Within a few years, other developers were getting in on the act, and the model got improved and modernised. By using new technology, the pay-outs also got bigger and bigger and the chewing gum got dispensed less and less frequently.
Across the sea to Britain
When they made their way across the Atlantic to Great Britain, they exploded in popularity on a whole new continent. In every seaside town up and down the British coasts, outside fish ‘n’ chip shops, amusement arcades, and on every pier, “fruities” were all the rage.
The journey took them inside pubs, and then in the 1990s they had a make-or-break moment. Slot machines were either going to sink or swim when the internet came along. Would they be consigned to history’s nostalgic dustbin, haunting windswept piers and fusty pubs?
No they wouldn’t. Type “online slots games” into any search engine and decide for yourself whether slots are still relevant today. Then, if you sign up and play on a free demo, what’s one of the first thing you see?
We’ve gone full circle. The humble cherry symbol will be right there on the reels, a remnant to a sepia-tinted age when machines like the one you’re playing on dispensed chewing gum.