On December 16, 1884, 134 years ago today, William Henry Fruen, of Minneapolis, patented his "Automatic Liquid-Drawing Device." Designed to look like a building, Fruen's device dispensed mineral water upon the deposit of a coin, making it America's first patented vending machine.
The first, but hardly the last.
Over the decades, vending machines of ever-increasing complexity and variety have become a familiar sight across our land.
So familiar that a vending machine even featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 dark nuclear war comedy "Dr. Strangelove."
In need of small change to make a pay phone call to the president, Peter Sellers implores Keenan Wynn to open fire on a Coke machine:
Wynn: "If you don't get the President of the United States on the phone, you know what's going to happen to you?"
Wynn: "You're going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company."
Most vending machine transactions go far more smoothly than that, of course.
Today, vending machine dispense all sorts of products – particularly in Japan, where the variety of foods and drinks and goods on offer is legendary.
With all due respect to that first machine, these days it's a lot more than mineral water.
For more info:
- National Automatic Merchandising Association
- Strangest vending machines around the world (Conde Nast Traveler)
- Vending Times
Story produced by Charis Satchell.