Vending machine

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Soda pop and snack machines

A vending machine is a machine that dispenses merchandise when a customer deposits money, validated by a currency detector, sufficient to purchase the desired item (as opposed to a shop, where the presence of personnel is required for every purchase). It is believed to have been first invented by Hero of Alexandria, a 1st century inventor. His machine accepted a coin and then dispensed a fixed amount of "holy water".

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Newspaper vending machine

In the United States, vending machines generally serve the purpose of selling snacks and soda pop, but are also common in busy locations to sell newspapers. Another common class of vending machines are photo booths.

Items sold via vending machine may vary by country. For example, some countries sell alcoholic beverages such as beer through vending machines, while other countries do not allow this (usually because of dram shop laws). Cigarettes were commonly sold in the U.S. through these machines, but this practice is increasingly rare due to concerns about underage buyers. Sometimes a pass has to be inserted in the machine to prove one's age.

With regard to newspaper vending machines, a customer could open the box and make off with all of the newspapers after paying for one (or in the alternative, leave all of the newspapers outside of the box). The success of such machines is predicated on the assumption that the customer will be honest, which is helped by the fact that having more is often not useful.

Cigarette vending machines in Tokyo, with promotion girl

In Japan, with a high population density and low rates of vandalism and petty crime, there seems to be no limits to what is sold by vending machines. One can imagine anything, and it is likely that there is a vending machine available to provide it; even bottles of wine and pairs of underwear can be purchased from vending machines.

In the U.S., most vending machines are operated by individuals who buy or rent the machines, stock the merchandise, and keep some of the profits. Other machines, such as U.S. Postal Service machines are maintained by governmental or quasi-governmental entities.

Most modern vending machines have been extensively tested and designed to inhibit theft. Many of these machines are designed essentially as large safes. Every year, a few people are killed when machines topple over on them, either while trying to steal from them, or venting frustration on them, especially when a malfunction causes the machine to fail to dispense the purchased item or the proper change (leading to the humorous saying, "change is inevitable, except from a vending machine").

Candy machine

The actual causes to vending machine malfunction are usually many-fold. However, certain vending machines use a spiral kind of mechanism to separate and to hold the products. When the machine vends, the spiral turns, thus pushing the product forward and falling down to be vended. If the products and the spiral are misaligned, the spiral may turn but not fully release the product, leaving the spiral snagged on the product and having it hang there. This may cause repercussions to the alignment of the products behind it if someone knocks the hanging product down, as the spiral must move a fixed distance.

Beer & Wine vending machines — Tokyo

Ticket machine

Tickets are often sold through a ticket machine, e.g. train tickets at railway stations and tram tickets at some tram stops and in some trams. Some places have begun using ticket machines as replacements for parking meters.

Ticket machine for Brisbane Translink

To encourage usage of ticket machines and reduce the need for human salespersons, machine prices may in some cases be lower than a purchase at a ticket counter.

In many countries where trains and tram tickets operate largely on the honor system (with enforcement by roving inspectors or conductors), there are also machines in stations just for validating tickets. This is for the situation where one buys a ticket valid for one day as yet undetermined, and then decides to use it on a particular day. For that purpose, one has the day stamped by the machine on the ticket. A common problem is forgetting to validate and then being fined as if one had no ticket at all.

Such machines are generally not used in the United States. Nearly all American mass transit networks operating on the honor system expect their users to buy tickets immediately before use; regular riders can avoid that inconvenience by buying monthly passes in advance (often from the same machines that sell daily or one-time tickets). However, a handful of regional rail systems like Caltrain have adopted the use of validation machines for at least some ticket types.

There are also machines that issue free tickets — for example, those for virtual queueing.


19th century

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beginning of 20th century

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See also

External links