Company HistoryThe Mills Novelty Company, Incorporated of Chicago, Illinois was once a leading manufacturer of coin-operated machines, including slot machines, vending machines, and jukeboxes, in the United States. Between about 1905 and 1930, the company's products included the Mills Violano-Virtuoso and its predecessors, celebrated machines that automatically played a violin and, after about 1909, a piano.
The origins of the business lie with Mortimer Birdsul Mills, who was born in 1845 in Ontario, Canada but who later became a citizen of the United States, resident in Chicago, Illinois. Mortimer Mills was granted United States patent 450,336 on 14 April 1891 for an improvement in "coin-actuated vending apparatus". The improvement allowed the purchaser to select the product being sold and manipulate it so that it was carried to the point of delivery. Focusing on the devices covered by the patent, Mortimer Mills founded the M.B.M. Cigar Vending Company.
In 1897, the company launched the Mills Owl, which was the first mechanical upright cabinet slot machine. The machine's design included a circle of owls perched on a lithographed tin wheel. The machine was a great success and the company would later adopt an owl motif as its trade mark.
In 1898, Mortimer Mills sold a controlling interest in the company to his son, Herbert S. Mills,and the name of the company was changed from M.B.M. Cigar Vending Company to Mills Novelty Company, Incorporated. At that time, the company was located at 125-127 West Randolph Street, Chicago.
In 1926, the company moved to a plant of 375,000 square feet (34,800 m2), comprising a factory and administrative building, at 4100 Fullerton Avenue in the northwest of Chicago. Mills would distinguish itself by being one of only a few firms to manufacture both machines for gambling and vending machines.
In 1928, Mills entered the market for coin-operated radios and multi-selection phonographs. Between 1929 and 1948, the company manufactured and sold jukeboxes.
By January 1948, the company was financially troubled and had petitioned the federal court for time to pay its debts. In December 1948, the company sold all of its phonography inventory to H.C. Evans of Chicago - including a model named the Constellation (model number 951).
Evans launched its first jukebox, also named the Constellation (model number 135). This was followed by the Jubilee (in 1952, model numbers 245 and 278), the Century (in 1953, model number 2045), and the Holiday (in 1953, model number 4045). In addition, a 50 select jukebox, the Evans Jewel, was introduced in 1954; only one is known to exist at this time.
In March 1954 Evans introduced its last coin-operated console slot machine, named Saddle and Turf. The firm collapsed less than a year later.