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The history of the vending machine

Vending machines are far from a twenty first century invention. In fact if we look as far back as the Greeks we can see that the mathematician Hero invented a machine that would allows visitors to Egyptian temples to vend holy water as far back as 215BC!

Coins and the vending machine

Roll on a few thousand years later we see the first coin operated style vending machines in action. During the late nineteenth century London saw the first coin operated vending machines in circulation. The machines dispensed post cards, but that’s not all, Richard Carlisle joined the vending machine bandwagon by selling not cards but books at around the same time.


Meanwhile across the ocean in America the Thomas Adams Gum Company installed some of the first machines ever to be seen in the US. They sold tutti-fruit chewing gum and were strategically placed on the subway platforms of New York City.

Just a few short years later the Pulver Manufacturing Company sold a similar product but with the added attraction of animated figures that came with the candy. Just after the turn of the twentieth century the iconic colourful round gumball vending machines came into being. This amazing glass bubble design still has some resonance in design history today.

It wasn’t long before vending machines started to sell a wide ranging array of goods from cigars, stamps and postcards in Philadelphia to an entire restaurant in a vending machine that ran for sixty years until 1962.

Vending mania

It may seem strange today but during the early twentieth century there was a huge frenzy a big craze for the vending machines. Coin operated bars and cafes were springing up all over France and Germany.

Cigarettes and sodas

By the early 1920’s vending machines started to begin to dispense the kind of things we most commonly associate with vending...drinks! Or as the Americans would say: sodas and all in cups! Shortly after this the cigarette vending machine was born something we still see and many people use even today.

Condoms and the vending machine

By 1928 vending machines which dispensed condoms were invented by Julius Fromm’s company. They were born out of need to improve public health and to promote safer sex. This would allow the user to access contraception any time of day and night. These early machines were installed in public toilets, airports, subways stations in America and even outside chemists. Pharmacies that have out of hours condom machines also sometimes have the less popular female condom version on offer too!

The Coke and Pepsi phenomenon

The names might not mean much to the layman now but by the 1940’s and 1950’s in America a business called Vendorlator Manufacturing Company of California produced a series of classic machines.

By the mid 1960’s the first vending machines to dispense drinks in cans were invented. It is merely a variation on these machines that people still use in huge numbers today.

By 1970 a company in Dallas, Texas showcased its first speaking vending machine dubbed the Venda Talker. Money would inserted and then a thank you would be uttered followed a one liner joke spoken by then comedian Henny Youngman!

Since then vending machines have undergone huge changes, from accepting credit cards to remote monitoring of machines from a distance. The technological shifts have been huge in recent years with the changes in the way we buy goods from vending machines ever improving.

Nowadays it’s possible to see, hire or buy vending machines in every conceivable type and colour. Today we take for granted the fact that most vending machines are chilled not only to keep the products fresher for longer but to enhance our vending experience. Pretty much anything can be bought from a vending machine today from fresh lobster popular in Japan to three course meals, dvds and gifts. The opportunity for vending machine companies to improve not only the quality of what the produce but the range of goods continues to grow. The sky really is the limit with technological improvements gaining impetus every day vending machines will continue to evolve to meet our growing needs.