The History of Vending Machines

Did you know that holy water was once vended?

Empty drinks vending machine
Steve West/ The image Bank/ Getty images

"Vending or "automatic retailing," as it is increasingly known, has a long history. The first recorded example of a vending machine comes from the Greek mathematician Hero of Alexandria who invented a device that dispensed holy water inside Egyptian temples.  

Other early examples include small machines made of brass that dispensed tobacco found in some taverns in England around 1615. In 1822, an English publisher and bookshop owner named Richard Carlile built a newspaper dispensing machine that allowed patrons to purchase banned works.

And it was in 1867 that the first fully automatic vending machine, which dispensed stamps, appeared. 

Coin-operated vending machines

During the early 1880s, the first commercial coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, England. Invented in 1883 by Percival Everitt, the machines were found at railway stations and post offices as they were a convenient way to purchase envelopes, postcards, and notepaper. And in 1887, the Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company, the first vending machine servicer was founded. 

In 1888, the Thomas Adams Gum Company introduced the very first vending machines to the United States. The machines were installed on the elevated subway platforms in New York City and sold Tutti-Fruiti gum. In 1897, the Pulver Manufacturing Company added animated figures to its gum machines as an added attraction. The round candy coated gumball and gumball vending machines were introduced in 1907.

Coin-operated restaurants

Vending machines soon offered everything, including cigars, postcards and stamps. In Philadelphia, a completely coin-operated restaurant called Horn & Hardart was opened in 1902 and stayed opened until 1962. Such fast food restaurants, called automats, only took nickels and were popular among struggling songwriters, actors  as well as celebrities of that era.

 

Beverage vending machines

Machines that dispensed drinks go as far back as 1890. The very first beverage vending machine was located in Paris, France and allowed people to buy beer wine and liquor. In the early 1920's, the first automatic vending machines started dispensing sodas into cups. Today, beverages are among the most popular items sold through vending machines.  

Cigarettes in vending machines

In 1926, an American inventor named William Rowe invented the cigarette vending machine. Over time, however, they became increasingly less common in the United States due to concerns over underage buyers. In other counties, vendors have addressed the issue by requiring some sort of age verification, such as a driver's license, bank card or ID to be inserted before a purchase can be made. Cigarette dispensing machines are still common in Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic and Japan. 

Japan, land of the vending machines

Japan has gained a reputation for having some of the most innovative use of vending machines. Some of the things you can buy includes produce such as fresh fruits and vegetables, Sake, hot foods, batteries, flowers, clothing and of course sushi. In fact, Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world.