UK Fruit Machines Word Origins

Added on January 7, 2019, in Gambling Articles, Video Slots by Gambling Gurus

Where does the term “fruit machine” come from?

If you have ever had a word or phrase stick in your head until you are compelled to travel down every possible rabbit hole on the internet to find its meaning and origin you are not alone. We recently embarked on a journey to find where the term “fruit machine” comes from.

In a nutshell, some machines have symbols of fruits on their reels. But like most things, just below the surface of the mud, there’s more mud. So we’ll look deeper, much deeper in hopes of finding bedrock.

In the world of online gambling, and even on land, we find user activated casino gambling machines with three or more spinning reels referred to variously as slot machines, fruit machines, puggies, or pokies depending on the source. Oh… and let’s not forget “one-armed bandit”!

Thank goodness we have context, as each one of those descriptors or pet names could have myriad alternate meanings.

  • A machine to stamp slots into metal?
  • A vender that dispenses apples and oranges?
  • A much-beloved pet?
  • A pin or needle?
  • A dexterously challenged pilferer?

Of course, they are all terms used for what was originally known as a slot machine – which in itself, is now sort of a misnomer. Where are the mechanical parts, the handle, the clattering reels? Yes, today’s ‘machines‘ have engines, but that’s another matter altogether.

To be fair to fruitie purists, there is another sub-genre of fruit machines. These are the AWP or amusement with prizes machines. Those who are aficionados or mavens of the art of emptying will argue, and quite correctly, that Class B3 and Class B4 machines are other animals altogether than “casino slot machines“.

If you are looking for some of today’s best online slots for real money, you might try While you won’t be able to bump the machine for a nudge or force a rave (or can you?) some of the Microgaming casinos there carry “new classics” like Chavin’ It Large, Dubya Money, Pub Fruity, and Cash ‘N Curry.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the nomenclature and some history behind more common gambling machines which are broadly known by their nicknames or by words.

It’s commonly agreed that the Aussie slots are referred to as pokies as a form of saying poker machine. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, the term first appeared in the 1960s. Lore tells us that the first pokies had spinning reels with playing card symbols on them, not quite the video poker games of today that were pioneered to market by William “Si” Redd of IGT fame.

The origin of the less well-known term, “puggy” (Scottish English) is even more obscured in colloquialism. Our bet would be on monkey > slot machine (the comical image of an organ grinder and monkey). It may just as well have transferred to gaming machines from card games, as Scots are known to refer to the kitty, or poker pot, as the puggy. We simply don’t know! The term does seem to have evolved further to mean an automatic cash dispenser or ATM.

One-armed bandit… The house always wins in the end!

That leaves us with slot machines and fruities, or fruit machines. In order to find the origin of the terms, we may need to determine the evolution of the machines, at least in their first few years of existence.

Mirriam Webster counts the first known usage of “slot machine” in 1891.

Mirriam Webster counts the first known usage of “fruit machine” in 1933.

In 1891 a New York company, Sittman and Pitt developed a five reel gambling machine based on poker. Fifty card faces were on the rolls, or “reels“. Automatic payouts were difficult at best due to the manifold potential combinations.

The Liberty Bell slot machine was invented by Charles Fey of San Fransisco, California sometime between 1887 and 1895.

Three reels held five symbols each: Horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a Liberty Bell, thus the name.

According to Wikipedia:The Liberty Bell machine was so popular that it was copied by many slot machine manufacturers. Thus in 1907, manufacturer Herbert Mills from Chicago produced a slot machine called the Operator Bell. By 1908 lots of “bell” machines were installed in most cigar stores, saloons, bowling alleys, brothels and barber shops.

But where are the fruit symbols?

Here is where we wallow in the mud and look for a solid foundation of bedrock to base an assertion on. However, even with the 21st Century’s greatest artificial intelligence enabled search engines, we regrettably come up short.

One thing to keep in mind about “the world’s greatest repository of knowledge” is that some of the references and citations are not authoritative. Yes, we can rely on Wiki for some things, but when you chase a rabbit down a hole in the mud, you better be able to catch him, or at least follow the pesky critter to the bedrock and stare him down!

Wiki tells us, without proper citation, that the BAR symbol was derived from the Bell-Fruit Company’s logo (circa 1910) and that “… payment of food prizes was a commonly used technique to avoid laws against gambling“.

However, a discussion on the Penny Machines Forum shows us that the argument may have weaknesses.

The earliest ‘slot machines‘ or ‘trade simulators‘ we find with fruit symbols on the reels are circa 1912 and made in the U.S. by O. D. Jennings. Some usually reliable sources point to the Industry Novelty Company prior to 1910 and the Mills Novelty Company in 1910. We see the Bell Fruit Gum machine produced by Industry Novelty Co. appear in 1913 and see images of fruit and bells on the reels.

One thing we can be sure of. Machines that accepted coins, had spinning reels with fruit symbols and dispensed prizes first appeared in the early 1900s.

Regardless of whether or not they dispensed or otherwise awarded fruit flavored candies, gum, or anything other than coins, they were, indeed, “fruit machines”.

Whether we call them slots, fruit machines, pokies, puggies, or one-arm bandits – to quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“.