When someone mentions the words “vending machine” we tend to think of a high tech piece of equipment, quirky Japanese trends, chocolates, soft drinks and just about everything else that can be securely packaged and sold from a machines. It turns out, vending machines have a longer deeper history, and the origins go way back to the first century.
The first-ever known example a vending machine can be traced to Heron of Alexandria. Heron was a mathematician and engineer in Roman Egypt. Heron’s vending machine was designed to dispense holy water. The ancient worshipers would inset a coin into the machine, the coin would fall into a pan that was attached to a lever. This lever would then open a valve that would in turn let a small amount of holy water flow out. As brilliant as Heron’s invention was, we did not see the recorded use of vending machines for almost another millennium.
Fast forward to seventeenth century England. We see coin-operated vending machines resurface in English taverns. These vending machines primarily featured brass tobacco dispensers for use by the tavern guests. However, it would be another two hundred years before the vending machine saw widespread deployment and everyday use by the broader public. In the 19th century, Richard Carlile built a newspaper vending machine that dispensed banned works. Then in 1883 Percival Everett created a notepaper and postcard vending machine. By the end of the century, vending machines slowly began to find their way into most post offices and railway stations across the globe. In 1897 Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company was founded. This is significant because it was the first vending machine operator company on record.
It wasn’t long before most popular products found their way into vending machines. Machines would be designed to dispense, food, beverages, sweets, chocolates, cigarettes, fishing bait, even contraceptives. The range of product was only limited only by imagination.
The problem with the initial design of vending machines is that they relied on the proportion and weight of the money inserted. This made it easy for fake money to be used. This problem was overcome, with modern vending machines having advanced scanners, and even UV light, which can easily detect fake bills or coins. This new technology also allowed broader usage of vending machines that can now distribute over-the-counter drugs alongside a prescription that can be scanned by the machine. Not only are there more options for purchasable goods, but also more payment options, as many vending machines can now also be credit card and crypto operated, as well.
With a history spanning over 2,000 years we have seen vending machines drastically change the way people are able to purchase items on the go. There is no reliance on staff to complete a transaction and the product is available 24 hours a day seven days a week Vending machines are simple, quick and easy to use, which is the reason why we see no end in the rising trend of vending machine culture.