Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines

With the invention of the slug rejector, it became much more difficult to “fool” vending machines into dispensing products for free. As a result, the machines became more widely deployed, were used to sell a wider array of goods and services, and became important tools in the marketing and distribution of commodities.

Summary of Event

Following World War II, vending machines became a significant factor in the U.S. economy. The growth in the popularity of these machines among product manufacturers and distributors was driven largely by the invention in the 1930’s of the slug rejector, which made them a more reliable source of income than they had been previously. Indeed, following the invention and perfection of the slug rejector, vending machines became commonplace as a means of marketing gum and candy. By the 1960’s, almost every building had machines that sold soft drinks and coffee. Street corners featured machines that dispensed newspapers, and post offices even used vending machines to sell stamps. Occasionally, someone fishing in the back woods could find a vending machine next to a favorite fishing hole that dispensed cans of fishing worms. [kw]Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines (1930’s)
[kw]Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines, Invention of the (1930’s)
[kw]Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines, Invention of the Slug (1930’s)
[kw]Vending Machines, Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of (1930’s)
[kw]Machines, Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending (1930’s)
Inventions;slug rejector
Vending machines
Slug rejector
[g]United States;1930’s: Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines[07430]
[c]Inventions;1930’s: Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines[07430]
[c]Trade and commerce;1930’s: Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines[07430]
[c]Science and technology;1930’s: Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines[07430]
[c]Marketing and advertising;1930’s: Invention of the Slug Rejector Spreads Use of Vending Machines[07430]
Adams, Thomas, Jr.
Lynde, Frederick C.
Leverone, Nathaniel
Leverone, Louis E.

The primary advantage offered by vending machines was their convenience. Unlike people, machines could provide goods and services around the clock, with no charge for labor. Before World War II, the major products stocked by vending machines were cigarettes, candy, gum, and soft drinks. Beginning in the 1950’s, the inventory of commodities available in such machines expanded significantly.

The first recognized vending machine in history was invented in the third century b.c.e. by the mathematician Hero. This first machine was a coin-activated device that dispensed sacrificial water in an Egyptian temple. It was not until 1615 c.e. that another vending machine was recorded. In that year, snuff and tobacco vending boxes began appearing in English pubs and taverns. These tobacco boxes were less sophisticated machines than was Hero’s, as they left much to the honesty of the customer. Insertion of a coin opened the box; once it was open, the customer could take out as much tobacco as desired. One of the first U.S. patents on a vending machine was issued in 1886 to Frederick C. Lynde, an English-born inventor. That machine was used to sell postcards.

If any one person can be considered the father of vending machines in the United States, however, it would probably be Thomas Adams, Jr., the founder of the Adams Gum Company. Adams Gum Company Adams began the first successful vending operation in the United States in 1888, when he placed gum machines on train platforms in New York City. Other early vending machines included scales (which sold a service rather than a product), photograph machines, strength testers, beer machines, and hot water vendors (to supply poor people who had no other source of hot water). These were followed, around 1900, by complete automatic restaurants in Germany, cigar vending machines in Chicago, perfume machines in Paris, and an automatic divorce machine in Utah.

Soft drink vending machines got their start just prior to the beginning of the twentieth century. By 1906, improved models of these machines could dispense up to ten different flavors of soda pop. The drinks were dispensed into a drinking glass or tin cup that was placed near the machine (there was usually only one glass or cup to a machine, as paper cups had not yet been invented). Public health officials became concerned that everyone was drinking from the same cup. At that point, someone came up with the idea of setting a bucket of water next to the machine so that each customer could rinse off the cup before drinking from it. The year 1909 witnessed one of the monumental inventions in the history of vending machines, the pay toilet.

Also around 1900 came the introduction of coin-operated gambling machines. These “slot machines” Slot machines were typically differentiated from normal vending machines. The vending machine industry did not consider gambling machines to be a part of the vending industry, because they did not vend merchandise. Neverthless, it was the gambling machines and the dishonesty of some of their clientele that induced the industry to research slug rejection.

Early machines could be cheated by the simple ploy of tying a string to a coin and pulling the coin back out of the machine once it had dispensed its product or service. They could also be tricked into accepting crude counterfeit coins called “slugs.” In the 1930’s, the slug rejector was perfected, allowing machines to test the coins inserted into them to make sure they were genuine currency. The invention of this slug rejection device gave vendors more confidence that they would receive payment for products or services sold by vending machine.


Slug rejectors were the most important improvement to vending machines in the 1930’s, but they were not the only such improvement. Change-making machines were also instituted, and a few machines would even say “thank you” after a coin was deposited. These improved machines led many marketers to experiment with automatic vending. Coin-operated washing machines were one of the new applications of the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, many appliance dealers attached coin metering devices to washing machines, allowing the user to accumulate money to make monthly payments to the dealer by using the appliance. This was a form of forced saving. It was not long before some enterprising appliance dealer got the idea of placing washing machines in apartment house basements. This idea was soon followed by stores full of coin-operated laundry machines, giving rise to a new kind of automatic vending business.

Following World War II, there was a surge of innovation in the vending machine industry. Much of that surge resulted from the discovery of vending machines by industrial management. Prior to the war, the managements of most factories had been tolerant of vending machines. Following the war, managers discovered that the machines could be an inexpensive means of keeping workers happy. They became aware that worker productivity could be increased by access to candy bars or soft drinks. As a result, the demand for machines increased, exceeding the supply offered by the industry during the late 1940’s.

Vending machines have had a surprising effect on the total retail sales of the U.S. economy. In 1946, sales through vending machines totaled $600 million. By 1960, that figure had increased to $2.5 billion. The 1950’s began with isolated individual machines that would dispense cigarettes, candy, gum, coffee, and soft drinks. By the end of that decade, it was much more common to see vending machines in groups. The combination of machines in a group could, in many cases, meet the requirements to assemble a complete meal.

There are limitations to the use of vending machines. Primary among these are mechanical failure and vandalism of machines. Another limitation often mentioned is that not every product can be sold by machine. There are several factors that make some goods more vendable than others. National advertising and wide consumer acceptance help. A product must have a high turnover in order to justify the cost of a machine and the cost of servicing it. A third factor in measuring the potential success of an item is where it will be consumed or used. The most successful products are used within a short distance of the machine; consumers must be made willing to pay the usually higher prices of machine-bought products by the convenience of machine location.

Merchandise is the most commonly sold type of commodity dispensed by vending machines, but the vending of services is also an important part of the industry. The largest percentage of service vending comes from coin laundries. Other types of services are vended by weighing machines, parcel lockers, and pay toilets. There are also shoe-shine machines, and some motels feature coin-operated massaging beds. Even the ubiquitous parking meter is an example of a vending machine that dispenses a service. Coin-operated photocopy machines also account for a large portion of service vending.

Vending machines have become a permanent fixture of capitalist society, and they have only scratched the surface of the potential markets. Although the machines have a long history, their popularization resulted most directly from innovations of the 1930’s, particularly the slug rejector. Once they could rely on receiving payments in exchange for goods or services, marketing managers came to recognize that vending machine sales were more than a mere sideline. Increasingly, firms established separate departments to handle sales through vending machines, as vending machines became such an important marketing channel that failing to deploy them could damage a company’s bottom line. Inventions;slug rejector
Vending machines
Slug rejector

Further Reading

  • Amann, Fred. “Automated Cashless Services: A Trilogy.” Vend (March 15, 1970): 19-20. Discusses the role of ITT Canteen Corporation in popularizing vending machines that accepted credit cards in 1967.
  • Diehl, Lorraine B., and Marianne Hardart. The Automat. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2002. A study of the most famous automated restaurant in the United States, which became an icon of New York City in the early twentieth century. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Latimer, Bob. “A New Breed of Bulk Vending.” Vend (May 1, 1968): 27-28. Discusses the role of vending service companies in the proliferation of vending machines in the late 1960’s.
  • “Machines Are Selling Everything from Peanuts to Panties.” Sales Management 84 (June 3, 1960): 38-42, 116-118. Gives highlights in the history of vending machines and includes an extensive discussion of products being sold through vending machines in the late 1950’s.
  • Manning, W. J., Jr. “Automatic Selling: A Business in Billions.” The Management Review 49 (October, 1960): 14-22. A good history of the vending machine industry dating back to 1886. Emphasizes the technological breakthroughs of the 1930’s.
  • Molinari, Gianfranco. “Latest Developments in Automatic Retailing in Europe.” Journal of Marketing 28 (October, 1964): 5-9. Describes developments of the early 1960’s in European vending operations. Emphasizes the technical, marketing, and psychological factors that influence the success of a vending operation.
  • Schreiber, G. R. Automatic Selling. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1954. An earlier and longer version of the book listed below. Focuses on vending machines as a sales tool.
  • _______. A Concise History of Vending in the U.S.A. Chicago: Vend, 1961. Very brief history of vending machines, published by the leading journal in the industry.

Fuller Brush Company Is Incorporated

First Self-Service Grocery Store Opens

Procter & Gamble Announces Plans to Sell Directly to Retailers