Recently, a resident of Lacombe, Alberta was honoured with an award for his invention: a vending machine that dispenses firewood. James West, who sells firewood seasonally, invented this machine so that campers won't have to rely on wood lot hours. West's creation is another innovation in the history of vending machines, which have dispensed treats such as candy, coffee, toys - even holy water.
History's first vending machine is thought to have been invented in the first century by Hero of Alexandria, a mathematician and engineer known for his innovative spirit. Hero's invention dispensed holy water with the payment of one coin. The holy water's buyer put this coin into the machine, where it landed on a tray. This tray was attached to a lever, which opened a valve, releasing the water. To ensure that the buyer didn't get too much holy water, the tray was designed to move with the weight of the coin. It would tip continuously until the coin fell off, and a counterweight would then close the valve.
It wasn't until over a thousand years later that Hero's invention became popular again. In the 1880s, vending machines in London dispensed postcards. These were the first coin-operated vending machines as we recognize them today. America's first vending machines sold gum to train travellers in 1888. In 1897, innovation struck again when motion was added to the machines. A manufacturing company thought that the addition of figures in the machines, which would move around after each purchase, would attract more customers. Proving that one invention can create another, this new kind of mechanical motion became the basis for slot machines and pinball.
Today, there seems to be no limit to what this this invention can dispense. Many of us grew up saving our change to buy gumballs from vending machines, or, as adults, buy sandwiches and coffee from them. But In Australia, you can buy gemstones from vending machines, or a potted plant in Japan. Innovations are happening quickly for the vending machine, an invention with a humble - and almost holy - history!