It’s Not Only Cherries and Lemons… The History of Slot Symbols

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Slots. They’re a game that has been around for centuries and has remained popular over the course of time. But despite this rich history, some of the classic symbols that adorn the tradition reels are still in use today. Although we’ve come a long way from the original slot machines, to the well-known fruit machine and now video and 3D Slots, slot machines and slot symbols are very much part of modern culture. But as we discover, it’s not only cherries and lemons…

Where it all began – the Poker theme

The first slot machine of sorts was introduced in 1891, however, it’s not Slots as we know it. The game was very heavily influenced by another popular casino game – Poker. These slot machines consisted of five reels which displayed card faces. The aim of the game was to get the greatest Poker hand you could – a Royal Flush.

You’ll notice when playing Slots today that the highest symbols (10, J, Q, K and A) still feature and are often the base symbols. Expect to see these, no matter what the theme of your chosen game. Another thing you’ll notice is that while early Slots were influenced by Poker, by Poker machines, in the casino world, video Poker and Slots are not the same.

Nothing to do with Poker – the Liberty Bell and horseshoe

The first classic slot machine was invented in 1895 by Charles Fey and saw a number of changes to what was previously in action. First of all, the pay-outs were automatic, so there wasn’t a person (usually the bartender) handing over the prizes for a win.

Secondly, Fey reduced the number of reels, from five to three. This, in turn, meant a reduced number of symbols and he replaced the card symbols. The five symbols he used were diamonds, spades and hearts (the suits from a deck of cards); horseshoes (considered a traditional lucky symbol); and the liberty bell. Thus, the Liberty Bell slot machine was born.

Over time, the design of the slot machine was replicated and the symbols changed. The lucky horseshoe was later replaced by lucky 7 and the treble 7.

Fruit Machines – bubble gum jackpots and the BAR symbol

As we’ve discovered, the original Slots have nothing to do with fruit – so where did these symbols come from? Well, in the 1900s, despite their popularity, slot machines were banned and an alternative was introduced.

With no such thing as cash prizes, winners would receive a fruit flavoured bubble gum and originally, the flavour of the gum would depend on the three matching fruit symbols you’d land on the reels.

Fruit machine Slots consisted of cherries, grapes, oranges, lemons and melons; while the BAR symbol signified a bubble gum packet and it looked a little like the logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company, but over time, became more stylised. These symbols are still popular today and are largely used in retro Slots. In fact, in the UK, slot machines are often referred to as ‘fruit machines’ – and these kinds of Slots are the ones most people remember, in pubs and arcades.

Modern Slots – wilds, scatters and a whole multitude of symbols

As we have already discovered, as slot machines developed, the symbols did too. The evolution of Slots technology has had the biggest impact, with a whole range of symbols and additional features. Transferring from a physical machine to the digital age, the advances in technology have allowed these games to be more visually pleasing, with bright colours, sleeker designs and exciting effects.

Video Slots are more inventive with their graphics, using symbols related to the game’s theme; for example, Ancient Egypt games use pyramids, Cleopatra and scarab beetles, while comic-book games will display the superheroes, villains and other related images. Software designers are kept on their toes to deliver a whole multitude of themed games, to ensure the user never gets bored.

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