In 1888, Thomas Adams invented and marketed the first American gum vending machine. Specifically, he was vending his Tutti Frutti gum which was one of the original flavors he produced.

While Adams is given credit for developing the first profitable and public vending machines in the United States, he is best known for his invention of chewing gum. His original flavors included Tutti Frutti, Spearmint, BlackJack, and Clove.[1]

Tutti Frutti Gum Machine

Tutti Frutti Gum Machine

The machine itself was very primitive compared to the vending machines of the twenty-first century. It included a coin slot, a shelf for the product to be distributed to the consumer, and two levers that when pushed down, activated the system inside.[2] Inside there was a channel for the pieces of gum to fall. As the levers were pushed down on the front of the machine, the inside channel opens shortly in that rotation to allow gum to fall into the shelf for the customer.[3]

These first machines were often out of order – either out of their product or jammed in some way so that they did not in fact work and often stole customers’ pennies.[4] In addition, early machines such as Adams’s Tutti Frutti gum vendor often fell prey to slugs and other methods of theft. Since early coin slot technology simply accepted a round, coin-like object, it was easy to cheat the system. By using a coin with a hole in the middle and tying a string to it, a person could insert the coin into the slot, activate the lever system, and pull their coin back out.[5]

Adams true genius was his choice of location for his vending machines.[6] He placed his first handful of vending machines on the platforms of the New York City subway system.[7] Given the amount of wait time in between subway cars, a self-service machine was just right for such a transaction. A consumer could simply place a penny into the coin slot, push down a lever, and receive a piece of chewing gum for the ride. Automatic vending and the convenience of self-service was something unknown to the American public at this time.

Adams’s gum itself was another reason for the success of the machines.[8] Gum was a socially acceptable habit, and could easily be chewed in public. The inexpensive price was also a draw. Another perk to gum vending was that gum was non-perishable, making it an excellent choice for an early vending product. Other products, such as chocolate could not stand up to the heat of the day. Unlike other products, gum was becoming relatively standardized, so it was not necessary for a customer to see it before they bought it. By 1889, packages of five sticks of Adams’ gum were available, which made sales more profitable for the Adams Gum Company. Pre-wrapped items made it possible for a customer to wait until later in the day to consume the product. [9]

[1] For a detailed account of Adams’ gum invention and his full story, see

[2] Michael Colmer, The Great Vending Machine Book, (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1977), 21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Martin V. Marshall, Automatic Merchandising; a study of the problems and limitations of vending, (Boston, MA: Harvard University, 1954), 56.

[5] Colmer, 4-6.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Kerry Segrave, Vending Machines: An American Social History, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 200), 27.

[8] Marshall, 6.

[9] Segrave, 19.

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