Do you know who invented the first vending machine? We’ll give you a clue—it was the same great mind that brought us the steam engine, wind-powered energy, and the syringe, to name a few of the devices he pioneered. No guesses? It’s Heron of Alexandria!
This Greek mathematician and engineer was a resident of Alexandria, Egypt, where he conducted some of the most important work in Hellenistic sciences. He lived from 10 B.C. to 70 A.D., and taught at the famous Library of Alexandria before it burned.
Heron’s vending machine prototype was created as a way to prevent the theft or over-use of holy water. A coin or token would fall onto a lever, which would open a valve and release some of the holy water stored inside. When the coin fell from the lever and into the machine, a counterweight would snap and close the valve. Heron’s invention prevented people from taking too much holy water at temples, ensuring that everyone would have equal access.
It took about 1,600 years for Heron’s invention to get another foothold in popular culture. The next coin-operated machines were recorded in 1615, used in English taverns to dispense tobacco. It wasn’t until 1867 that the first fully-automated vending machine was patented by Simeon Denham, who used it to dispense stamps.
It’s amazing how many people use vending machines all the time, yet don’t really know much about their origin. Vending machines have been used to dispense a lot more than just snacks and soda, and who knows what they’ll be like in the future!