In 1888, Thomas Adams was the only American who produced gum vending machines. Upon observing his success, other companies and individual inventors came into play. Countless new vending machines were produced, including machines that vended “penny gum, candy, or peanuts.”[1]

Entering into the penny-vending business was a seemingly good investment, so many tried their hand at the market. As more machines were produced, the quality of machines was often sacrificed to outdo the competition. Inefficient machines quickly became a poor investment for these new businessmen.[2] All of these new machines competed for space in the transit stations.

Adams founded the Adams Chicle Company in 1888, and promptly produced a newer model vending machine, which vended five packs of gum instead of the one piece vended by his initial machine. This newer machine was short-lived, because it was easily broken into and was therefore inefficient.[3]

In the 1890s, a craze of new vending machine companies led to a plethora of new machines being installed in major cities. Street corners and transit stations became littered with machines.[4]

In 1896 a newer machine built to dispense various “elongated packages,” was patented by Charles W. Goldsmith. This machine also included an important new feature–an automatic locking mechanism that disabled the machine from accepting more money when the contents of the machine had diminished.[5]

Pulver Manufacturing Company produced animated gum machines in 1897, which were more effective and popular than Adams’ original machine.[6]

Also in the 1890s, penny weighing scales became the newest novelty machine, which continued to be popular and adapted for the next several decades. Some penny scales even introduced sound in 1890 to draw in more interest from passersby.[7]

In 1891, a penny stamp vending machine was invented and produced by the Automatic Machine Company of Buffulo, New York.[8] Europe was also enjoying this new technology craze, and foreign entrepreneurs emerged into the American vending machine scene.[9]

In 1902, the German trend of automated restaurants made it to the United States. The Horn and Hardart Baking Company opened the first automat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[10] With this new era of vending, Adams’ simple gum vending began to take a back seat to newer and more complex inventions. This is also presumed to be the beginning to the “modern automatic cafeteria.”[11]

In 1908, a German company called the Stollwerck Brothers achieved control over all New York subway and “elevated railway” systems via contract with the transit centers themselves. For a share of the profits, the New York transit system allowed the Stollwerck Brothers to monopolize this avenue for sales.[12]

In 1924, there was a push to create more reliable machines.[13] Machines that were poorly made often resulted in two undesirable consequences. First, the machine could be easily stolen from, causing the owner to lose their product. Secondly, machines that took customers’ money dissuaded them from trying other various machines for fear of the same poor results. As one letter to the editor in the New York Times complained in reference to the money wasted in out of order machines, “these pennies add up.”[14] 1930s, anti-slug technology enabled new confidence and further expansion of vending machines in the United States.[15]

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

[2] Martin V. Marshall, Automatic Merchandising; a study of the problems and limitations of vending, (Boston, MA: Harvard University, 1954), 8-9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Segrave, 9.

[5] “An Automatic Vending Machine,” Scientific American, (Feb 29, 1896),, (accessed April 1, 2009).

[6] Lina Lee, “History of Vending Machine,” Ezine Articles,, (accessed March 30, 2009), 1.

[7] Michael Colmer, The Great Vending Machine Book, (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1977), 14.

[8] Ibid., 14-15.

[9] G. R. Schreiber, A Concise History of Vending in the U.S.A., (Chicago: Vend Magazine of Vending Industry, 1961), 4-6.

[10] Colmer, 28.

[11] Ibid., 29.

[12] Segrave, 15.

[13] Ibid., 33.

[14] Martin Aranow, “Complaint on Vending Machines,” New York Times, (Oct. 20,1953), (accessed April 1, 2009), 1.

[15] Roger Smith, editor, Inventions and Inventors, (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press: 2002), 851.

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