Monday, April 2, 2012

Antique Gizmos and Listening to Your Critique Partners

antique slot machine

One of my critique partners (every writer needs one or more of those) questioned my reference to a character comparing a particular gadget to a slot machine. I had to pause. In this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey mixed up space/time continuum universe I've created, would this character know what a slot machine was? The short answer is "yes" but I never choose the short answer. I decided to research slot machines.

To get to slot machines, we first travel though the history of another coin operated device--the vending machine. According to this article by Mary Bellis, the word "slot machine" once was used for all automatic vending machines, not just the gambling ones.

But how far into history do you want to go? Ancient times? Around 215 B.C. a Greek engineer and mathematician invented a machine to stand outside of Egyptian temples and dispense holy water in exchange for coins, according to

But jumping to modern times-- to around 1880. That does sound modern compared to the B.C. era. :) According to The Polar Stationwebsite, that's when coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, dispensing postcards.
 Russian postcard vending machine. Sorry, couldn't find the original old London one.

Vending machines didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1888 when Tutti-Frutti gum machines were installed on New York City subway platforms.
slot machines

Now we get to slot machines, aka- the "one armed bandit." Apparently "fruit machine" is a slang term they use in England. 1895 is when the slot machine was invented by Charles Fey of San Francisco. Well, there is some dispute as to the exact year. With inventions, it can take time to work the bugs out, so I expect he was fiddling with it for a few years. In 1896 he opened the factory to produce his "Liberty Bell" slot machines, according to's history page.

So, will I keep the slot machine reference in my novel? Much as I like it. I don't think it'll work. I've smashed modern times with 1850's. If my character had any experience with slots, it would probably be of a modern variety, not a Liberty Bell sort. So, I say, no. I'll modify the scene and thank my lucky gum balls that I have critiquers that make me stop and think.
gum ball machine
*Image sources embedded in image captions.
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