Poker machine, Mills Silent Bell 'War Eagle', metal / wood / paper / plastic / glass, made by Mills Novelty Company, United States of America, 1931-1938
The Mills War Eagle is one of the most significant machines in the history of gambling technology. The Mills Silent Bell machines of the 1930s established the distinctive aesthetic of casino gaming. In 1931 the Mills Novelty Company, the largest manufacturer of gaming machines, introduced its Silent Bell series featuring a quieter, more reliable three-reel mechanism. The Silent Bell also increased the number of possible combinations to 8,000.
This mechanism remained in use for more than 35 years in Mills products. Its cast alloy cases were produced in numerous flamboyant designs. The War Eagle was the first and most famous of a series of designs which included the Lion Head, Roman Head, Skyscraper and World's Fair.
Drawing inspiration from contemporary architecture and design, the Silent Bell series formed a classic statement of the machine aesthetic of the 1930s, an assertion of progress and modernity made more attractive by the economic circumstances of the time. In 1931, the War Eagle sold for $US76.50. Mills's marketing focused on the machine's appearance: 'Alive with brilliant colour, flashing into the faces of crowds on location. Who can resist them? Who won't be curious about them? Who won't want to try this machine?' In 1932, at the depths of the Depression, Mills sold more than 40,000 machines.
The technology and decorative focus established by the Mills company in 1931 remained the foundation of poker machine design until the 1960s, when electro-mechanical machines were introduced.
Charles Pickett, curator Design & Society.
The Mills Novelty Company was founded by Mortimer Birdsul Mills, a Canadian who moved to Chicago in 1878. Mills designed and patented several railway engineering innovations before patenting and producing a coin-operated cigar vending machine in 1891.
In 1897 Mills began manufacturing one of the first successful coin-operated gaming machines, a large roulette-style game named the Owl; the Mills Novelty Company was founded the same year. By 1899 the company had 500 employees and was producing 13 types of gaming machines as well as numerous vending and amusement arcade machines.
Marshall Fey's invention of the three-reel automatic payout poker machine transformed gaming technology. In 1906 Mills joined other manufacturers in producing copies of Fey's machine, even replicating its 'Liberty Bell' title. By this time Mills had branch offices in most major US cities, giving the archetypal gaming machine national popularity; 30,000 were produced by 1914.
Until the 1960s, the Mills company dominated the poker machine industry in the US, as well as exporting machines to Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Its heyday was the 1920s and 1930s, capitalising on the illegal gaming boom which accompanied Prohibition in the USA, followed by the creation of the Nevada casinos during the 1930s.
Other companies, such as Caille Bros and WO Jennings, were more innovative designers of games and technology. In contrast Mills's strategy of creating novel case designs for standard three-reel machines, notably the Silent Bells of the 1930s and the High Tops of the 1950s, proved more lucrative.
During the 1960s increased competition, notably from the innovative Bally company, saw Mills introduce illuminated cases and four-reel machines. However Bally's electro-mechanical machines, featuring motorised pay-out hoppers, dominated the industry until the introduction of video machines during the 1980s. Despite a merger with long-time rival Jennings, Mills lost market share to Bally. The company's last machines were produced in 1979.
This machine was apparently manufactured for export as it has '1s' cast beside the coin slot and was made to operate with Australian one shilling coins.
This machine was one of those collected by the West Belconnen Leagues Club. It was displayed on loan in the PHM Gambling in Australia exhibition during 2004-2006 and later purchased by the Museum.