Herbert Mills made his fortune in the amusement business. Inheriting his father’s business and applying his own inventive spirit, he ran the Mills Novelty Company in Chicago. Shortly after the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the young Mills built the first coin-operated automatic slot machine and later manufactured Mills machines of all kinds for his penny arcades and fortune telling machines.
The Mills children remembered their father’s skill in playing any stringed instrument. Enraptured by violin music, Mills wondered if it could be improved and commercialized. Working with Henry K. Sandell, who had patented a mechanical violin, Mills developed the “Violano Virtuoso,” a self-playing violin and piano. The Pleasant Home Foundation recently acquired an original violano virtuoso, which today, sits in the same room the Mills family’s machine stood. Watch the following video to learn more about the self-playing instrument and why Herbert Mill adored this machine.