The world’s first vending machine was made in the first century A.D. Often incorrectly dated to 215 BC, the simple device created by Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician of the time, predated the next attempt at automated customer service by about 1,600 years.
Could you imagine life without vending machines? Found in just about every town, they provide us with the self service requirements that introverts and socially awkward people the world over crave. Often much quicker and friendlier than their human counterpart, they have proven to be almost completely infallible. Almost I said. When they screw up, they really screw up, and couldn’t care less whether or not the customer is always right. It has your money and your snack, so what are you going to do about it? Thankfully though, the world’s first vending machine didn’t dispense drinks or snacks. It dispensed something as digestible, but undoubtedly more valuable. Holy water.
The Greek mathematician, Hero of Alexandria invented the world’s first vending machine in the first century AD. He developed a machine that would accept a coin that would dispense Holy water in return. But this does raise a couple of questions. How did his ingenious machine work, and why did he make it?
We will deal with the latter half of the question first. The need for his invention was to prevent opportunists from taking more holy water than they had paid for. By developing a machine that measured and delivered the exact same quantity of water with each coin deposited, it was assured that each paying customer got only what they paid for, and no one missed out.
How did the world’s first vending machine work?
When someone dropped a coin through a slot in the top of his machine it fell onto a pan that was attached to a lever. This lever then opened a valve that let some water out. But that wasn’t the end of the process. With the weight of the coin on the pan it continued to tilt, until it reached a point where the coin toppled off. When this happened a counterweight snapped the lever up which shut off the valve. How clever is that?
This wasn’t the only great invention that he designed. He also managed to develop a wine glass that refills by itself, and an automatic door.
The next known vending machine turned up in the early 1600’s. This machine dispensed tobacco and was portable.