The History of Vending Machines

As you may be aware, a vending machine is a machine that dispenses items, traditionally for money. If you have ever bought a soft drink or snack from the office ‘snack machine’, you know exactly how they work. Money (or some other input) goes in, you press a few buttons, and your desired product comes out. What you may not realize, however, is that vending machines have been in use for over a hundred years. Through the years, vending machines have doled out everything from drinks, live bait, art supplies, and even life insurance.

The first vending machine, invented by first-century engineer Heron of Alexandria, was a coin-operated machine that dispensed holy water. In 1615, coin-operated vending machines that dispensed tobacco were common among taverns in England. By 1867, the first fully automated vending machine, invented to dispense stamps, made history, again in England. America saw its first vending machine in 1888, selling gum on New York train stations. It was not until 1965 that John Greenwick invented the first vending machine that accepted paper bills, saving consumers the hassle of carrying coins. By the late 1990’s some vending machines were equipped to take credit or debit cards, and today, there are plenty of smartphone apps that can easily make vending machine purchases for you. In fact, the use of employee cards and ID’s play a significant role in modern industrial vending machines.

These advances have culminated in the modern industrial vending machine; a new model in the vending tradition. Any industrial or even commercial setting can be the perfect fit for the vending machine model because it helps both leverage and manage the inventory, without the need to charge the employee for the product. For the need to control tools or assets, they can be issued and returned to the device. A worker will input his or her ID number and select a tool he or she needs, such as:

  • Calibrated tools and instruments
  • Hand and power tools
  • Tool sets
  • Maintenance parts and critical spares
  • Radios
  • Laptops
  • Keys
  • Fixtures and tool holders
  • Gauges
  • Scanners
  • Lanyards
  • Respirators
  • Specialty Tools
  • Electrical Tools
  • Rechargeable Items

This allows the vending machine to double as inventory management in shops and work environments. As opposed to having a designated area for workers to grab whatever tools he or she needs, it is now possible to see who is using what tool, and when. It is also possible for machines to run software that can recognize a tool based on how it looks when it is checked back in, rather than having to attach a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip into every single tool. To take it one step further, modern industrial vending machines can also use their associated software to keep track of single-use item inventory levels. Then the machines will facilitate automatic re-orders at specified inventory levels. This process creates an environment where it is never a surprise when something runs out.

Obviously, vending machines have come a long way since the days when Greek coins produced holy water to the astonished masses. Today, industrial vending machines keep valuable inventory under control, and make it accessible only to authorized personnel. Industrial vending machines reduce product usage by as much as 35% and can automatically reorder products. Related software can reduce maintenance downtime, customize usage restrictions, and provide detailed reporting.