Thomas Adams’ Tutti Frutti gum vending machine set off a chain reaction in the United States. His initial step at automating the service industry prompted many other businessmen and inventors alike to consider it a viable option for marketing and selling goods. As one New York Times article puts it, “…out of pennies and nickels fortunes can be made.”[1] Americans were impressed by the new technology, while businessmen prospered from their curiosity. Adams’ gum vending was even taken up abroad, as demonstrated by a French charity in 1889.[2] There is no written evidence that explains why Adams chose to place his machines in the New York subway terminal, but this idea seems to have been critical to his success.[3]

Following the initial craze of vending gum, chocolate, and peanuts, more sophisticated machines began to emerge. Soon cigarettes, cigars, stamps, stationary, and even disposable cups for water became popular items for sale in vending machines.[4]

The vending machine industry went through multiple stages since its start. While penny candies and weighing scales were hugely popular for the first few decades, the industry expanded greatly during the 1920s and 1930s to include all sorts of items, which can be considered the initial period of optimism. Cigarettes dominated the industry in the 1930s, and federal crackdowns on slugs and other theft devices governed the 1940s. By the mid 1940s and 1950s, interest in diverse vending efforts was sparked once again, but the primary items vended were coffee, cigarettes, cola, and candy. Since then, the efforts of new inventors have continued to push the industry into new territory.[5]

An important vending milestone was the introduction of the soft-drink machine of the Coca-Cola Company in 1937. In coordination with Vendo Company of Missouri, Coca-Cola could vend their drinks in a coin operated cooler. By 1950, around 400,000 automatic Coca-Cola machines were in use.[6]

It is no stretch to state that vending machines became a national phenomenon. In 1940, the US Mint Office produced double the amount of coins of the previous year in order to keep up with the demand of change for vending.[7]

The popularity of vending machines reached the federal government in 1944 when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law stating that anyone possessing or using slugs could be fined up to $3,000 or sentenced to up to a year in jail.[8] While both World Wars and the Depression hurt vending profits and at points halted production of new machines, they never became obsolete regardless of the economic struggles of the time.[9]

American consumption went hand in hand with the method of selling products. Since vending machines provided a cheap and convenient method of purchasing everyday items, consumption as a whole went up. A 1950 study found that 15% of cigarette sales were made through vending machines.[10] There is no way to know for sure that the availability of cigarettes from vending machines influenced more Americans to smoke, but one can infer from this information that vending machines were crucial for this market to thrive.

In stark comparison to the unhealthy cigarette trend made accessible through vending, a healthy wave of vending swept consumption beginning in the 1990s. In 1994, Nabisco created “Snackwell” Cookies that were reduced fat to sell to the diet conscious American. Following this trend, other companies adapted their snack products to be low fat or reduced salt.[11] In this way as well as others, vending machines adapted and were catered to American lifestyles and popular trends. Diet Sodas, which had been in existence since 1959, resurged on the market in the mid 1990s.[12]

Today, the possibilities with vending are endless. There are ipod vending machines, movie rental vending machines (Red Box), fully cooked entre dinner vending machines, and much more.[13] As long as mankind is interested in technology and efficiency, vending machines will continue to prosper and be adapted world-wide.

[1] Waldo Walker, “Slot Machines Amass Riches From Pennies,” New York Times, (Nov 13, 1927),, (accessed March 30, 2009), 1.

[2] The charity sold penny chewing gum for ten cents in transit stations in Paris and Marseilles, which raised a substantial sum in a short period of time. For more information see: Michael Colmer, The Great Vending Machine Book, (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1977), 9.

[3] Kerry Segrave, Vending Machines: An American Social History, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 200), 7. Some sources attribute this idea to Percival Everitt, but this cannot be proved.

[4] Colmer, 30-31.

[5] Segrave, in totem.

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

[7] Segrave, 110.

[8] Ibid., 117

[9] Ibid., 110-115

[10] Norton Marks, Vending Machines: Introduction and Innovation, (Austin, TX: University of Texas, 1969), 115.

[11] Segrave, 203-205

[12] Ibid., 207.

[13] See media sources page for interesting new technologies of the modern vending machines.

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