Who Was Charles Fey?

Since I’ve been using the wayback machine I’ll turn it on again and look at a man who was born in 1862 in Bavaria. A man 100 years my senior, one of 15 children who left Bavaria to seek his fortunes in the US starting in New Jersey and eventually ending up in San Francisco.

He liked to work with mechanical things and because of this he eventually wound up working at the California Electric Works where he met his friend Theodore Holtz whom after awhile decided to leave CEW and start their own company. The Fey Company specialized in telephone, telegraph and electrical equipment until in 1895 Charles Fey created a device he called the Liberty Bell, a boxy contraption that you would insert a nickel into and pull an arm on the side of the machine to cause three wheels to spin and depending on what three images came up you could win up to five dollars [if you got three liberty bells].

Charles Fey was the inventor of the first slot machine and it happened here in San Francisco. In 1980 E. Clampus Vitus placed a plaque commemorating the invention of the slot machine at the location of the original Fey Company at 406 Market Street.

The original Liberty Bell machine can now be found at the Liberty Bell Saloon and Restaurant in Reno, NV owned by the grandchildren of Charles Fey. It is made of cast iron and weighs in at over 100 pounds and believe it or not, it still works.

So here is a salute to Charles Fey the man who invented a way to take money from the willing without even having to be there. He was better than any disposed Nigerian Prince I’ve never met.

See’s Candy

I have always been a chocoholic. I have pictures of me as a kid on Halloween stuffing chocolates into my mouth. I was such a chocoholic that in the early 80’s a magazine called Choclatier came out and I was one of the first subscribers. From this magazine I learned about all these new wonderful chocolate makers such as Godiva, Neuhaus, even our old American standby’s Hershey and Nestle had upscale versions that weren’t normally available in stores, but I have to say my fall back was always See’s Candy.

Sees Candy wasn’t actually starting in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles by Charles See in 1921 who wanted an old time candy shop look for the company so he used a picture of his mother Mary See, who never once made a chocolate for the store. See’s Candy moved up the South San Francisco somewhere in the 50’s where it was purchased by the Berkshire Hathaway Group in 1972 with Warren Buffet as it’s chairman [I never expected to find that out]. See’s Candy soon became the staple of shopping malls everywhere in the Bay Area. The best part about a trip to See’s Candy was that even if you didn’t buy anything just walking in meant you got a free piece of candy. When the holidays or someone’s birthday or even if you were invited over to someone’s house for dinner, See’s Candy was the standard to bring. Companies I worked for would receive a 5 lb box at Christmas and my bosses would frequently give out 1 lb boxes to the employees at Christmas time.

When I finally had a chance to sample Godiva and Neuhaus I was impressed, but like so many other people at the malls I headed to Sees when I wanted chocolate. Sees candy is currently $15/pound while Godiva is at $50/pound. See’s Candy in my opinion is much better and diverse than Godiva and that means [in our current economic downturn] that See’s Candy will give you more bang for your buck. My favorite in the boxed variety are the nuts and chews which I could probably much to my doctor’s chagrin eat an entire box in one sitting, but when Easter comes around it is always the divinity eggs that are at the top of my list. Screw the rocky road eggs, I want to bite into chocolate and get to that creamy nutty center. See’s Candy still has the old time candy shop look with only minor updates over the years. The best part about the place is that my mother gave me a very important lesson in stock with See’s Candy. It turns out that if you buy a gift certificate for a 1 lb box of chocolate that you can use it at any time in the future regardless of price increases. Way back when I had more disposable income I sunk my money into 100 gift certificate at $3 each. Now that the price has risen to 5 times that I get a much better return on my investment. I keep the extras in my safe due to their increased value.

While I still have a strong fondness for Ghirardelli Chocolate that is just plain chocolate, when it comes to filled and enrobed chocolates See’s Candy is still top of my list.