The Incredible Mills Twentieth Century Floor Machines
By Johhny Duckworth

The Mills 20th Century floor machine, which was produced at the turn of the last century from 1900-1916, is a very sought after machine by collectors today. This "upright" has a look like no other floor machine, which is amazing as almost everything was copied by the manufacturers back then, such as the Owls, Deweys, and the list goes on and on. If they weren't copying the name of a machine, they were reproducing castings or parts from it. I can't imagine the frustration of someone stealing your idea back then but we all know you couldn't get a patent on gambling devices, as the U.S. Patent Office has always had a strict policy against issuing a patent on any gambling device. Even in the parts of the country where they were operated legally, there was no protection against the theft of a slot manufacturer's design.

The coin head on the Mills 20th century is one of the biggest differences which separates this machine from all the others. The coin head is located in the top of the cabinet and is graced by a beautiful bare breasted winged lady on each side. The coins are dropped by the player into the slots on the top of the coin head for the color you want to play, and when you crank the handle one full rotation, the coins will fall down into the front viewing window. As the wheel spins, you stand there waiting for it to stop on the color you just placed your bet on. The viewing window is much like the other floor machines of the time as it holds the last few coins played on each color in order to verify which color was bet on as well as to make sure that everyone was using real money. This was part of their anti-slug and anti-cheating devices.

The mechanism in the 20th Century is fascinating. When you turn the handle it sounds like a big ratchet gear with springs popping & cracking the full turn of the handle. Once you have turned the handle a complete rotation, the wheel takes off spinning very smooth and quiet. If you are lucky and hit a winner, the coins are sliced out of the end of the coin tube, one at a time, by a large wheel with fi ngers and they then fall into the payout cup with such an incredible sound. There are several other machines that slice the coins out one at a time but not in the exact same fashion or with the sound as the 20th Century. The McDonald Manufacturing floor models represent the closest I have found with the same slicing of the coins but on a much smaller fingered wheel.

Another great feature on the Mills 20th Century is the fact that it came with an 8-way coin head on both the nickel and the quarter model. Most of the machines of the time were only 5 and 6 way play. The half and dollar models for the 20th Century had only a 5- way coin head, but that was due to the lack of room, as the big coins took up so much space in the coin head. The half and dollar models also have a little more intricate design on the front wheel glass as it has a scalloped edge of glue chip and paint around the border. Less than a half dozen dollar models are known to have survived, and the original machines that have surfaced over the years have also had the Mills Jockey race horse wheel under the front glass. The diameter of the Mills Jockey wheel is much smaller and this is the reason for the scalloped edge of the glass which fills in the empty space around the outside edge. One thing is for sure; if you want any floor machine in the dollar denomination, the 20th century will be your only choice, unless you can turn up a revamped dollar Dewey. These were made up by Charlie Fey in the 20's, but none have ever surfaced.

The mechanism used in the Mills 20th century is also the same one used in the Mills Roulette machine, except the mechanism is laying flat on its back in the cabinet on the roulette. The 20th century cabinets came in oak or mahogany and there are several different cabinet styles on the 20th Century. The catalog for Mills in 1902 talks about the machines doing well in summer and winter resorts and also places with a large transient trade. They also talk of the machines paying themselves off in only 24 hours. The owners and operators must have listened as a Mills Two-Bit Twentieth Century in the photo's turned up in a beautiful old hotel by a good friend in the late 70's. The machine had graced the lobby of this elegant old hotel in Wisconsin which had been shut down for some time. These old floor machines are so impressive and to think of all the locations these would have been placed is incredible. You can only imagine what they would look like in the lobby of a grand hotel as people checked in and out, or in that dusty old saloon with the wooden floors and swinging doors, or even in those beautiful resorts where the well to do would relax. Keep your eyes open as you never know when you may stumble onto one of these great machines.