kottke.org posts about Hero of Alexandria

The first vending machineOct 29 2010

When would you guess the world's first vending machine was invented? Probably 1880 or thereabouts. Not a bad guess:

It was not until the early 1880s that the first commercial coin-operated vending machines were introduced for public use. These vending machines were found in London and dispensed post cards. Around the same time, Richard Carlisle, an English publisher and bookshop owner, invented a vending machine that dispensed books. Vending machines finally made their United States debut in 1888 when the Thomas Adams Gum Company installed machines on subway platforms in New York City that vended Tutti-Frutti gum.

But as with so many other things, the Greeks got there first. A holy water-dispensing vending machine was described by Hero of Alexandria in the first-century A.D.:

A person puts a coin in a slot at the top of a box. The coin hits a metal lever, like a balance beam. On the other end of the beam is a string tied to a plug that stops a container of liquid. As the beam tilts from the weight of the coin, the string lifts the plug and dispenses the desired drink until the coin drops off the beam.

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