Battered but beautiful, complete as far as we can tell but not yet quite operational, this Mills “Bursting Cherry” 25c slot machine is one gorgeous hunk of Americana. The Mills Novelty Co was one of the pioneers of vending machine technology and mechanical musical instruments, and joined with the inventor of the slot machine, Charles Fey, to develop their first line of slot machines in 1907.
A perfect candidate for restoration, or to be enjoyed for what the years of use have done to it, and for its place in the history of American morals and mores.
|History of Mills Novelty Company|
|The Mills Novelty Company, Incorporated of Chicago, was once the world’s leading manufacturer of coin operated machines, including slot machines, vending machines, and jukeboxes, in the United States. Between about 1905 and 1930, the company’s products included the Mills Violano Virtuoso and its predecessors, celebrated machines that automatically played a violin and, after about 1909, a piano. By 1944 the name of the company had changed to Mills Industries, Incorporated. The slot machine division was then owned by Bell-O-Matic Corporation. By the late 1930s, vending machines were being installed by Mills Automatic Merchandising Corporation of New York.In 1897, the company launched the Mills Owl, which was the first mechanical upright cabinet slot machine. The machine’s design included a circle of owls perched on a lithographed tin wheel. The machine was a great success and the company would later adopt an owl motif as its trade mark.In 1907, Herbert S. Mills collaborated with Charles Fey, the inventor of the slot machine, to produce the Mills Liberty Bell. Mills would distinguish itself by being one of only a few firms to manufacture both machines for gambling and vending machines. In 1928, Mills entered the market for coin-operated radios and multi-selection phonographs. Between 1929 and 1948, the company manufactured and sold jukeboxes by the names of Hi-Boy, Troubadour, Dancemaster, Do-Re-Me, Swing King, Zephyr, Studio, Throne of Music, Empress, Panoram, and Constellation.In about 1935, Mills was engaged by Coca-Cola to produce a standing dry automatic cooled vendor for bottles. The result, the model 47, was the first of its kind for Cola-Cola. By the late 1930s, gum vending machines were being installed by Mills Automatic Merchandising Corporation of New York. The machines made use of technology protected by United States patents assigned to Mills Novelty Company, including number 1,869,616. During this period various pinball and other machines were also invented. Including the now famous “Panoram” which sold in the thousands, and was truly the forerunner of modern day MTV! The machine played black and white “soundies” and was extremely popular during the WWII period.
The last jukebox produced by the Mills Novelty Company was the Constellation (model number 951). At the end of the Constellation production run, a couple of boxes of the front grille medallins were sold as “scrap” to a Mr. Tucker of Chicago. In 1948 these became the horn button in all known Tucker automobiles!
The name “The Mills Novelty Company” still survives today, in the form of a business that restores antique Mills violano instruments (self playing violin and piano), and manufactures a computer based digital system for the antique Mills Violano Virtuoso instruments. It also manufactures a digital player system that will operate any MIDI equipped new or antique mechanical musical instrument.
The name of the company and logo trademarks are currently registered in the USA and elsewhere. Mills Novelty Company maintains this website at www.millsnovelty.com
The slot machine, popularly known as a “one-armed bandit” has been a mainstay of the casino industry for at least 30 years.
The slot machine’s story begins in 1895 when Charles Fey invented the first slot machine, dubbed “The Liberty Bell”. The Liberty Bell consisted of 3 reels marked with diamonds, spades and hearts, as well as Liberty Bell symbols. The “jackpot” earned from lining up 3 Liberty Bells on the reels was 50 cents in quarters or nickels. Other machines soon followed, including one called “Operator Bell”, which introduced the well-known fruit symbols on the reels, such as cherries and lemons.
Unfortunately for the slot machine industry, it did not take long for many states to ban slot machines, including California in 1911. The aforementioned fruit symbols were an attempt to clean up the slot machine’s image and circumvent anti-slot machine laws in many states by dispensing food prizes rather than coins. Additionally, the BAR symbol commonly seen in slot machines today was originated by the Bell-Fruit Gum Company, which manufactured slot machines that would dispense gum instead of coins.
Other innovations in the early days of slot machines including lighter cabinets made out of wood that replaced the original 100 pound cast-iron machines, and colorful designs to catch potential player’s eyes.
Anti-slot machine laws were eventually lifted and the slot machine gained additional notice during the 1940s, thanks to the efforts of mobster Bugsy Siegel. He installed slot machines in the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas as a diversion for the wives and girlfriends of gamblers.
Most of the slot machines from the 1890’s to 1940’s were made by only a few manufacturers: Jennings, Mills, Pace, Watling, Caille and Superior.
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