An innovator in the field of slot machines, Charles was born Augustinus Josephus Fey in Vöhringen, Bavaria, the youngest of fifteen children of Karl and Maria (née Vollman) Fey. The household was a poor one, with Karl working as a schoolmaster and sexton at the cathedral in New-Ulm. He also picked up extra work as he could, serving as the village council clerk and as a meat inspector. Charles started working at the age of fourteen, accompanying an older brother to work at the Munich Plow Company and, while there, learned the basic of mechanics. He left school, and the country, at the age of fifteen, with at least some skills at hand. It is unclear why he went to France, but he may have wanted to avoid the draft, get away from a crowded household, or pick up new trade skills. In France he worked for an intercom equipment manufacturer for three years then with a favorable reference, he moved to London where he found employment as an apprentice in a British shipyard, working in the nautical instruments department. In his five years there, he not only gained technical skills and saved enough money to immigrate, but also became fluent in English. Having an uncle in Hoboken, New Jersey, Fey made his way to the U.S. in 1885 at the age of 23. He stayed there a few months, then traveled west before landing in San Francisco, a town with a reputation for gambling and vice. There he found a job as a machinist, and fell in love with a local girl, Marie Christine Volkmar. Her parents were German immigrants and they had done well in the cigar business.