Vending machines are one of the few things keeping us away from the dream of a cashless society. The devices, which offer up an array of items for a little bit of pocket change, are silent but prevalent. They represent some of our most technologically advanced furniture, and they’ll probably always be there for us in our time of need. Today’s Tedium discusses their history—along with why, for some reason, they make us want to steal stuff.
The first vending machine was created to prevent holy water theft
Heron of Alexandria invented a lot of things, many of which helped set the stage for our modern society. Steam engine? He was all over it. A wind-powered machine? That was him. The syringe? He got there first.
But perhaps the most interesting thing he invented during his lifetime was a machine that efficiently ensured that people weren’t taking too much holy water at the temples where they went to worship. It was an annoying, frustrating problem, but Heron came up with a solution that was immensely clever.
Basically, people would drop tokens inside of the holy water dispenser, and the weight of the token would push against a lever that opened a small door. While the door was open, the holy water would fall out. Eventually, however, the coin would fall and the door would close—ensuring that people never took more than their fair share of holy water.
The craziest part? Modern society didn’t really embrace his invention for about 1,800 years. Heron died around 70 A.D.; it wasn’t until 1883, when inventor Percival Everett created a vending machine for postcards and notepaper, that Heron’s idea proved to have a lasting impact.
Other early examples include small machines made of brass that dispensed tobacco found in some taverns in England around 1615. In 1822, an English publisher and bookshop owner named Richard Carlile built a newspaper dispensing machine that allowed patrons to purchase banned works. And it was in 1867 that the first fully automatic vending machine, which dispensed stamps, appeared