What Did the First Vending Machines in the US Dispense?

Call it an evolution or simply advanced technology, vending machines are a trend. We’ve seen vending machines that dispense weird things like crabs and lobsters. We’ve also seen unique options that dispense automobiles, gold, and other valuables. And we can’t forget vending machines that prepare and dispense pizza and fries. So, what’s next? Actually, nobody really knows. We just have to wait and see. Luckily, a majority of these vending machines are found in the US. So, the next inventions will probably be in the ‘Land of the Freed’.

But, are you aware of the item that the first vending machine dispensed? Just for your information; the first-ever vending machine was invented outside the US. It was actually in Ancient Greek at around 215 BC and the man behind the creation was Greek Scholar Hero of Alexandria. This vending machine was designed to dispense holy water in the ancient temples. Since then, different nations have been borrowing the concept. Among the top beneficiaries is the US and it was in 1888 that we saw the first local creation. To help you understand this journey, here’s a breakdown of the items dispensed in their chronological order.

Gum – 1888

As mentioned, 1888 is the year that we saw the first vending machine in the United States. It was launched by Thomas Adams Gum Company in New York City to assist the company to vend tutti-frutti gum. A number of these dispensers were installed along the subway and the streets to target commuters.

Classic Foods – 1902

1902 is a historic year in Philadelphia. It’s the year that the first-ever coin-operated automat restaurant was launched. Going by the name Horn & Hardart, the automat restaurant was in operation till 1962. Though no one really knows why it had to close down, the impact of the restaurant is not something to be easily forgotten in Philadelphian history.

The joint was critical during the wartime as it enabled the locals to grab their favorite classic foods fast. All they needed to do is to insert nickel coins and wait for their orders to be served. So, the waiting staff was not necessary. Similar restaurants were opened by the same company in New York during the same period.

Coated Gumballs – 1907

After the invention of the tutti-frutti gum machines in 1888, so many other companies saw the need to improve this innovation. One of them was Pulver Manufacturing Company. The company saw it necessary to add attractive touches to the original gum vending machines. So, they opted to dispense round and coated gumballs. In addition, they added games to the machines.

Because of the additional touches that were really attractive to passers-by, these machines were nicknamed ‘trade stimulators’. Whenever a buyer would buy gumballs from the machine, the machine would move around in an attractive fashion. The innovation started in 1897 but it was only commercialized in 1907.

Soda – 1920

The soda vending machines are probably the most popular commercial dispensers in the US. Though such inventions existed before 1920, it was until this historic year that the machines were fully automated. So, in the eyes of America, actual soda vending machines were invented in 1926. The machine would dispense the beverage into cups.

By the time it got to the 50s, there were more classic dispensers for soda bottles. As a matter of fact, these vending machines would sell mostly Pepsi and Coca Cola drinks. A majority of the machines were a product of Vendorlator Manufacturing Company, a California-based company.

Cigarette – 1926

The 1920s saw many innovations of the vending machine hit the US market. Considering that cigarettes are a popular consumable, William Lowe saw the need to automatically sell them. So, he created the first-ever cigarette vending machine in the US. Nonetheless, the technology didn’t receive the intended market reception.

Its popularity has diminished over the years. This is because of increased worries of underage buyers. Unlike in Europe and Asia, there are no proper age verifications procedures in the US for the buyers. In these two continents, buyers are required to produce an ID, a driving license or any other form of identification.

Coffee – 1946

In the 1940s, Vendorlator Manufacturing Company was taking the American food market by storm. They went from soda dispensers to coffee vending machines. They saw an opportunity to help coffee vendors sell their products more conveniently while saving on labor. This gave birth to the idea of having coffee breaks in workplaces.

Sandwich – 1950

To complement coffee vending machines, Vendorlator Manufacturing Company created the first sandwich dispensers. The machines became so popular in the 50s for people who wanted to have sandwiches on the go.

Life Insurance – 1950s

The American airports saw the need to cover passengers against flight crash risks. So, they introduced life insurance dispensing machines in airports. The insurances were to protect the family of the policyholder in the event that the plane crashed and resulted in death. Unfortunately, these machines barely survived two decades.

Snacks – 1972

In 1972, Polyvend saw the need to sell snacks in an attractive manner. So, they came up with the first-ever glass-front dispensers. This was to target consumers with cravings. The customers would find the dispensed snacks irresistible after seeing them through the glass fronts.

2006 – The Year of Credit Card Scanners

In 2006, the vending machine technology took an enormous jump in the US. Within a decade, almost all vending machines in America would accept credit cards. These vending machines were associated with specialty merchandises like electronics, snacks, beverages, books, oral contraceptives, life insurance, and OTC drugs.

Basically, there’s a specialty dispenser for almost everything that you can buy from a physical or online store. But still, you should expect weirder and more unique vending machines to grace the American market.

Closing Thought:

Looking at the path that vending machines have taken over the last century, it’s has been a long one. What’s amazing though is the fact that you can’t tell what will be dispensed in the next few years. The technology is getting impressive by the day and so the options are genuinely limitless. Judging by the progress so far, it’s quite likely that we’ll see some unexpected items being dispensed in the next decade.