Vending machines have always been a recurring symbol of popular culture, whose advent began during the 1980s, when children in schools on television series or movies used to drop coins in slots to buy snacks or to get sodas. Though vending machines today are used to dispense food items and sodas, the first vending machine however was invented for neither of the two purposes. Here is the story of how vending machines have become what we know of them today.

The timeline

The first vending machine came about during 1st century AD from Roman Egypt and was invented by the Roman mathematician and engineer, Hero of Alexandria. The vending machine was invented to dispense a certain amount of holy water, so that the people of the city don’t take much of it from the temple. Hero of Alexandria actually created a device in which people could drop tokens to release a certain amount of water.

In 1615, the England created a small machine that dispensed tobacco which were placed in taverns. In 1822, Richard Carlile, an English bookseller and publisher, created a machine that dispensed banned works, thus, allowing readers to purchase them. During the 1850s and 60s, the first, fully-automatic vending machine was introduced which sold stamps and writing paper. By the 1880s, coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London and Percival Everitt invented a machine that dispensed envelopes, postcards and notepapers.


Image: A modern-day vending machine.

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In 1887, Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company set up multiple vending machines in England, which sold chocolates, chewing gums, perfumes and matches. In 1888, United States of America had its first vending machine, set up by the Thomas Adams Gum Company, which sold tutti-frutti gum.


Image: Thomas Adams Gum Company’s tutti-frutti gum vending machine.

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In 1890, the first beverage-vending machine was installed in Paris which allowed people to buy various alcoholic beverages. Later, during the 1920s, soda-vending machines emerged. By 1902, a restaurant called Horn & Hardart was opened, which was coin operated and dispensed food and beverages when nickle coins were inserted into the machine.

In 1907, one of the early models of the modern-day gumball dispensing machines came out. Through the 1940s and 1950s, soda-vending machines also became popular. Due to this, Coca-Cola immensely increased their sales and currently, has one of the largest number of vending machines in the world.


Image: An early model of the gumball dispensing machine.

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Image: A banana-vending machine in Japan.

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Vending machines in India aren’t as popular as they are in other parts of the world. In Japan, the land of vending machines, most commodities are sold through them. They have sushi vending machines, banana vending machines and even horned beetle vending machines!

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