The First Vending Machine – Did you know that there are more vending machines in Japan than people in New Zealand? – Currently, there are about 5.52 million vending machines just in Japan, a huge number, right? While Thomas Adams was the first successful inventor and producer of a vending machine in the United States, there are many vending machines that pre-date his elsewhere. But did you know that The First Vending Machine has all started 2000 years ago with an ancient Greek engineer, a coin, and holy water?
The earliest known reference to a vending machine is in the work of Hero of Alexandria, a first-century AD Greek engineer, and mathematician. Hero Ctesibius (sometimes referred to as Heron) of Alexandria documented the first vending machine in the published journal entitled Pneumatika in 62 A.D. His machine accepted a coin and then dispensed holy water. When a-five-Drachma piece deposited in and it will exchange for a small supply of holy water in Egyptian temples. The lever opened a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off, at which point a counterweight snapped the lever up and turned off the valve.
Coin-operated machines that dispensed tobacco were being operated as early as 1615 in the taverns of England. The machines were portable and made of brass. In England in 1822, Richard Carlile invented a book vending machine. This particular machine had a dial that could be turned to a certain book title, and upon inserting the appropriate amount of money, the book would be dropped into a pick-up shelf in the lower half of the machine. The purpose of this machine was to avoid censorship laws which prohibited the selling of certain black-listed books. Carlile believed that if a machine sold the banned books, prosecution for this illegal activity would fail. Unfortunately for Carlile and his employees, this was not the case and he served jail time for selling the books indirectly through machines.
The first patented vending machine was developed by Simeon Denham of Yorkshire, England in 1857 under British Patent No. 706. His machine dispensed penny stamps and was relatively ineffective for the most part.
The first modern coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, England in the early 1880s, dispensing postcards. The machine was invented by Percival Everitt in 1883 and soon became a widespread feature at railway stations and post offices, dispensing envelopes, postcards, and notepaper. The Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company was founded in 1887 in England as the first company to deal primarily with the installation and maintenance of vending machines.
It was Everitt’s machine that sparked Thomas Adams’s interest in automatic vending. In fact, Adams obtained the “American patent rights” to Everitt’s penny scale machine and adapted it to sell his Tutti Frutti chewing gum. While their were other efforts to produce effective vending machines in the United States before Adams, foreigners took the foreground of this endeavor until Adams came into the picture in 1888, selling gum on New York City train platforms. The idea of adding games to these machines as a further incentive to buy came in 1897 when the Pulver Manufacturing Company added small figures, which would move around whenever somebody bought some gum from their machines. This idea spawned a whole new type of mechanical device known as the “trade stimulators.”