When you think back over the history of vending machines, you probably call to mind images of their evolution throughout your lifetime. The snack vending machine that you enjoyed at school as a kid pales in comparison to the high-tech solutions that we have available today. If you had to make an educated guess about when the first drink vending machine appeared, you would probably guess the 1970s or even the 1950s at the earliest, right?
In reality, the world’s first vending machine actually dates all the way back to the first century. Though it holds little resemblance to the soda vending machine that is probably in your office right now, it still has a rich and storied history that is more than worth exploring.
Heron of Alexandria
The first device that would be considered a vending machine was created during the first century by a man named Heron of Alexandria. Heron was something of an inventor in his day and actually played a huge role at the ground level of a number of the things that we depend on daily. In addition to having a hand in the development of the steam engine, wind-powered machinery and even the syringe, he also one day found himself in a situation that directly led to the concept of the vending machine.
Heron realized that churches at the time had a problem. People had a tendency to take too much holy water at temples, which left these locations without the necessary supplies needed to hold their services at the frequency that they’d like. With that simple premise, Heron went to work in his shop and changed the face of the world at the exact same time.
The Solution: Vending Machines
Heron’s solution took the form of a machine that allowed people to drop tokens inside. Once the tokens were recognized by their weight, a small lever would then open a small door and holy water would be dispensed. As the weight of the coin continued to shift, it would eventually fall back into a tray and the door would close again.
Suddenly, all of their problems were solved. People were less likely to take too much holy water if they knew they were paying for them and the temples didn’t have to keep employees nearby at all times to monitor the situation. In one fell swoop, Heron both solved a problem in a wholly unique way and set the stage for devices that we now use on a regular basis at the same time.
The next time that your uncle or grandfather tells you about how he remembers when the world’s first vending machine hit the market when he was a boy while you’re all gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, you can politely correct him – unless he happens to be 1800 years old, that is. You can then tell the story of Heron, the man who now made it possible to get everything from medicine to office supplies on demand and in the most convenient way possible whenever you’d like.