Vending machines have been around longer than you think. But they haven't always been dispensing candy gumballs and jawbreakers. What's your guess as to when the first vending machine was invented? 1910? Maybe 1850?
Try 70. That's right, the year 70 AD! A man named Hero (he's certainly ours) built the first vending machine at some point in his life from 10-70 AD. If only he'd had unwrapped Skittles, he'd have made a fortune!
Hero was a first-century mathematician and engineer living in Alexandria. When someone deposited a coin into his holy water vending machine the coin rolled down onto a pan which was attached to a lever. When the lever went down, a valve opened up and some holy water came out to the person who put the coin in. Brilliant!
The water stayed running until the coin fell off the pan. A counter-weight on the other side allowed the pan to rise again and the water to shut off. More coins please!
With that really early revolution in bulk vending, we're surprised to find out that it wasn't until the early 1800's when candy vending machines started really taking off. The first candy vending machine was brought about by the Thomas Adams Gum Company. They used their machines on train platforms to sell gum to passengers. From there, the coin operated loose candy vending machine industry started booming, selling bulk candy, gumballs, jawbreakers and more to the public for pennies.
From this technology was spawned the slot machines found in casinos, full-line spiral snack machines and even pinball machines. Basically any machine where you put in a coin (or now your credit card!) to receive a product or service started from these little gumball machines at train stations. Or if you ask Hero, they all started with his call to automate the selling of holy water!
The best example of a coin operated machine is from 1970 where a company built a machine that said "thank you" when you put a coin in. ...That's it. That's all it gave you. Genius!
For more information on the history of vending machines, see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vending_machine