From holy water to luxury cars, vending machines dispense all
It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that all of us would have bought something from a vending machine at some point. A can of soft drink; a pack of potato chips; a toy capsule – vending machines are part of our lives.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, vending machines have also been a key part of the fight against the pandemic, dispensing masks, contact tracing tokens, and test kits.
Have you ever wondered where these wonders of convenience came from and just how diverse their use has been over the years? Well, you’ve come to the right place then, as we’re running through the history of vending machines.
Short on time? Catch this video to see how vending machines have evolved!
First vending machine was from 2,000 years ago
Vending machines seem like modern marvels, but the first one was actually invented more than two millennia ago in 1 A.D. in Egypt, which was under Roman rule then!
The vending machine sold holy water – when a coin was inserted, it would hit and raise a metal lever, causing the release of the liquid. It allotted a fixed amount of holy water with each purchase, solving the issue of people taking more than their fair share. Priests were also freed from the task of collecting money.
What about closer to contemporary times?
Well, fast forward almost 2,000 years to the 1800s and vending machines were being used for daily necessities such as stamps and postcards.
It was in 1893 that we saw the first use of vending machines for food, with the German Stollwerck company selling chocolate. That was when the idea really took off and other products such as chewing gum and cigarettes were soon being sold through vending machines too.
What about packaged drinks, the product we most associate with vending machines today? Well, that came in 1930, when Coca-Cola rolled out the world’s first soda dispensing machine.
From the beginning of the 20th century, there were even waiterless restaurants called Automats that could serve up coffee, pies, and other food through machines. Horn & Hardart was the most prominent American automat chain, selling over 90 million cups of coffee a year at its peak.
From coins to notes
Vending machines are about convenience, but many were decidedly inconvenienced when they had no coins to feed the machine with. Hence, efforts were made to enable vending machines to accept notes – a much tougher challenge than coins.
Early machines that accepted notes used a magnetic tape-head-style mechanism to detect whether a dollar had the correct amount of iron content. But this method was soon deemed unreliable as laser printers could spit out prints with similar amounts of iron-laced inks. In the early 1990s, machines switched to using low-resolution digital cameras to verify a note’s authenticity. This method of looking for specific patterns was why crumpled notes were often rejected.
Vending machines in Singapore today
Vending machines are also an integral part of Singapore’s fight against the pandemic. We are able to get masks, test kits, and contact tracing tokens from vending machines situated in housing blocks, community centres, and other areas of high foot traffic.
So looks like this 2,000 year old contraption will be with us well into the future. Even so, we can be sure that it will continue to evolve and take in new technology. For instance, there is now an alcohol vending machine that uses Singpass information to verify a buyer’s age.
So if you ever get a drink from one of these machines, know that you have to thank ancient Egyptian concepts, along with the cutting edge tech of today!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/history-of-vending-machine