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Trade Stimulator

Overton Wheel trade stimulatorTwo controversial activities flourished in Kansas before and after the turn of the 20th century—smoking and gambling. A device known as a trade stimulator satisfied both those habits.

Trade stimulators became popular in saloons around the 1880s. Although modeled after other gambling devices, these machines were legal since in theory they offered prizes in the form of cigars, stamps or chewing gum rather than money.

Often set beside a cash register or near check-out counters, these machines encouraged (or "stimulated") customers to take their chance and spend some of their spare change before leaving. After inserting a coin, a handle was depressed or cranked to set into motion a roulette wheel, playing cards or dice. When the machine stopped, the patron read his "winnings" on the dial; these were dispensed by the clerk rather than spilling out of the machine itself.

In the case of the Overton Wheel (pictured here), the patron usually got one cigar with the opportunity to win additional ones. To play, the patron inserted a nickel and depressed the plunger, thus setting the roulette wheel in motion. The customer won cigars when the arrow landed on the numbered red spaces. Despite their intended use, some owners of trade stimulators paid out prizes in cash. This agitated citizens who were opposed to gambling. However, Kansas gambling laws protected trade stimulators and their owners since the winnings were supposed to be paid out in products. When saloons closed during state prohibition (beginning in 1881), trade stimulators were placed in stores, restaurants and cigar shops.

The Overton Wheel was named after the Topeka company who made it—the Overton Manufacturing and Engineering Company. In addition to these wheels, owners E. L. Overton and Charles Eagle sold electrical supplies. Eagle was the largest cigar manufacturer in Topeka and worked with Overton to create this wooden nickel slot machine which encouraged patrons to play for a chance to win Eagle Smoker cigars. The Overton Company was located at various addresses near 6th and 7th Streets in Topeka.

This wheel is one of two examples of trade stimulators in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Trade Stimulator

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1999

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.