Coin-Operated Perfume Dispenser

by Susan Berberet, Assistant Curator of Collectionsperfume-dispense1r.gif

A couple of weeks ago, I was working down a row of objects and came across a 1950s retro-pink enameled perfume dispenser. The choices of fragrant scents were classics, Chanel No. 5 and My Sin. For 10 cents you could be sprayed with the perfect perfume, just in case you forgot…but that made me start thinking, we have vending machines for everything! Hot coffee, soda pops, candy, sandwiches, DVDs, the list goes on; and it made me wonder, where did this all begin?

heronsholywaterdispenser.gifWell, it seems the first group to demand such on the spot purchases were the Greeks. The first mention of a coin-operated dispenser was in 215 B.C., by a mathematician and engineer named Heron (or Hero) of Alexandria. His machine would accept a coin and then dispense a set amount of “holy water” in the Egyptian temples!

However, the method did not catch on as quickly as you would think. It was not until the Industrial Age that the vending machine made a comeback. Early in the 1880s, the first modern coin-operated machine introduced in London, England dispensed postcards and books. By 1888, the Thomas Adams Gum Company built their own vending machine in the U.S. and sold their gum on train platforms.

While the coin-operated perfume dispenser is no longer found in the restrooms of nice restaurants, we must appreciate the history and the ever-changing convenience of vending machines. Today we can buy just about anything; entertainment with arcade games, jukeboxes and slot machines; traffic regulation with parking meters; and technology with iPods and MP3 players sold in airports. So the next time you insert your dollar bill to buy a bag of chips think back to where this all started, with Heron and the Greeks.

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