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Vendings History

Vendings History

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Before we get started on the history, let’s just think about what vending is. Essentially, it’s an automated method of receiving something in return for depositing money. The accepted definition of vending is ‘an automatic machine that provide items such as snacks, confectionery, drinks and cigarettes to consumers, who deposit money in return for the items’.

What A Hero

From that point of view, it sounds like a 20th century innovation. But it’s not. As with many other things the Greeks and Romans were up to it well before then. The earliest mention of a vending type machine is by the engineer and mathematician Hero of Alexandria, who lived in first century Roman Egypt. He invented a machine that accepted a coin and then dispensed holy water.

It seems like he was ahead of his time though, as vending didn’t really catch on in a big way until the Victorians used innovations in mechanical engineering to create machines to dispense books, newspapers, stamps and postcards. The first machine to be widely distributed was invented by Percival Everitt in 1883 and soon became popular at railway stations and post offices, vending postcards, notepaper and envelopes. This was followed by the Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company, founded in 1887 in England, the first company to deal primarily with the installation and maintenance of vending machines. The idea was catching on.

USA, Germany and Japan

At the same time, innovations were taking place in the USA, Germany and Japan. In the US, the Thomas Adams Gum Company developed machines which were placed on subway platforms in New York City and vended Tutti Frutti gum. In Germany it was chocolate that drove the development of vending and by 1893, Stollwerck had placed some 15 000 chocolate vending machines across the country. Cigarettes, matches, chewing gum and soap products swiftly followed the chocolate. By this time, vending was here to stay. Vending machines were a good way of stimulating further business on the railways and vending and the railway network expanded hand in hand.

Over in Japan innovation was taking place along similar lines, where Tawaraya Koshiki created the first Japanese vending machine in Baken (now Shimonoseki) in 1888. This machine used Japanese traditional wind-up dolls to dispense tobacco.

The next major development came from the USA, where in the 1930’s the first cooler vending machines appeared to sell fizzy drinks, originally cooled by ice cubes but swiftly followed by the refrigerated machine. Driven by brands such as Coca-Cola, these businesses were quick to take advantage of the new opportunity for 24/7 sales.

In fact, major innovation from here on in was led by the US as vending in the UK was largely confined to confectionary on railway platforms and ladies’ toiletries, for several decades.

The next milestone was the invention of hot drink vending machines, which opened up a whole new market. The first hot drinks vending machine was called the ‘Kwik Kafe’ made by the Rudd-Melkian company in 1947 and this time the concept caught on rapidly – by 1955 there were more than 60 000 hot drinks vending machines in the US. These early machines used instant coffee powder or liquid and also vended creamer and sugar.

In Japan too rapid development was made in the 1950’s, where the cultural addiction to vending machines really took off. From this point, Japanese culture adopted vending to an extent not seen in other countries, with everything from eggs, to umbrellas to underwear and footwear, through every type of food and drink, was now available through vending.

Analogue Dating

By the 1990’s Japan’s love affair with vending extended to the love affair itself – you could get a date through a vending machine. Men submitted an application form, which would then be replicated 30 times and placed in 30 ‘Happy Guy’ vending machines around Tokyo – for which women paid to receive the details (Japan Powered/Thornton 1992).

Today’s Technology

In the 21st century, it’s technology that has driven innovation and vending has adapted to keep up with changing marketplaces. Cashless vending maximises spend and modern telemetry enables just-in-time management of stocks and touch screen panels make ordering easy. Quality too has vastly improved with modern vending machines making fresh bean/brew style drinks that give the High Street brands a run for their money. New innovations featuring video messaging, including advertising messages and video games, are also now used on screen.

Reverse Vending Machines

The most recent adaptation of the vending concept has come in the form of reverse vending machines, which accept a product back and dispense money. This has been driven by the environmental agenda, encouraging citizens to return used packaging for which there is a value and a market. These are set to multiply as legislation around deposit return schemes and recycling takes effect around the world. Find out more about the world of vending at

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