The History of Iconic Slot Machine Symbols and How They’ve Transformed Pop Culture

They're instantly recognizable in movies and TV, but where did they come from?
October 2, 2022
4 mins read

When you picture slot machines, you probably see images of fruit and the lucky number seven, but have you ever wondered where they came from? These symbols weren’t chosen by accident and have now transformed into iconic motifs.

The Lucky Number Seven

Throughout history, seven has been an important number. There are seven days of the week, seven notes on a musical scale, and the Seven Wonders of the World. The lucky number pops up in myths, tales and religions worldwide and has become an integral part of our human existence.

But why seven? Mathematicians consider seven a special number because it’s an optimal-prime number. But even deeper, seven is ingrained in our psyche. Most people can only retain seven items of new information in their short-term memory and consider seven their favorite number. It’s no wonder that when Charles Fey invented the slot machine in 1895, he featured the lucky number.

Photo by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

The BAR Symbol

Oddly enough, the simple black and white BAR symbol has to do with chewing gum — a rectangular pack, to be exact. In the U.S. in the early 1900s, some slot machines offered gum as the winning prize. There is a theory that the BAR symbol was actually the logo of the Bell-Fruit Gum Company and the slot machines were a marketing ploy. But this theory comes with an interesting facet — how did they obtain the slot machine when the inventor notoriously refused to sell or lease the design? One theory suggests a machine was stolen in a saloon robbery in 1905 and then replicated.

We may never know the exact origin of the BAR symbol, but over a hundred years later it is still iconic. Today, you can see this symbol in movies, on TV, and as tattoos. And even though slot machines no longer dole out packs of gum, this symbol still represents a win in popular games. This symbol can be spotted in famous casinos as well as online slot games. One game, in particular, Action Bank, prompts players to crack a vault door and discover its contents. If a player gets three or more symbols on a payline, they can win a prize. One of those winning symbols is, of course, the infamous BAR symbol.

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

The Famous Cherries

When gum was a popular win on slot machines, companies began adding fruit symbols to signify flavors. This gave way to slots being coined as fruit machines. But out of all the fruit flavors, why did the cherry reign supreme?

If a player got three matching fruit symbols on the payline, they could win more gum, but cherries had special rules. A prize could be won if three cherries appeared, no matter where they were on the board.

Today, the cherry is still regarded as a lucky symbol and is seen throughout popular culture. The cherry symbol hangs from car mirrors, adorns bracelets and T-shirts, and is sung about on the radio by the likes of everyone from John Mellencamp to Harry Styles.

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