Rock Hill Coca-Cola Blog

Coke vending machine

The Coca-Cola Vending Machine

The last time we looked at Coca-Cola paraphernalia, we examined the history of retail coolers. That discussion led directly to this month’s topic: Coca-Cola vending machines. Although a few of the later cooler models were coin-operated, they didn’t actually vend anything. Customers would plop in a coin, open the cover and grab a bottle. To qualify as a true vending machine, the apparatus needs to do all the work.

Vend-all Cooler Gets Close

The first of the modified coolers that got close to qualifying as a proper vending machine was developed by a Georgia Coca-Cola bottler: the Vend-all. Design specifically for the unique Coca-Cola bottle (more on that topic here), the Vend-all had a surprisingly small capacity. Holding only 12 bottles at a time, the machine would truly vend, but it wasn’t very practical for retailers. Imagine how many times the Vend-all would need to be restocked on a hot June afternoon.

Goodbye Honor System

By the early 1930s, manufacturers began producing practical and functional vending machines.  The only real problem? As yet the vending machines had no way to distinguish a real coin from a slug. Within a single generation, retailers needed to shift from open, honor-system coolers to the prevention of coin fraud.

Vendo Gets It Right

By the 1940s, vending machine makers had worked out some of the earlier kinks and started producing some of the iconic vending machines that are so easily recognizable today. In particular, the Vendo company, founded in 1937 to outfit traditional coolers with coin-operated tops, started making the V-39 model. Produced between 1949 and 1957, this vending machine sports the familiar phrase “Ice Cold” across the lower portion of the front.

Cavalier Does Well, Too

Another company operating in the 1940s, Cavalier, also produced some of the more sought-after vending machine models. Many collectors are eager to get their hands on a late 1940s model, the C-27, with either the ship’s wheel or star shaped handle.

Everything Old Is New Again

If you’ve been into a fast food restaurant in the past few years, you will likely have noticed the large, customer-friendly machines that dispense your choice of Coca-Cola product. You might also have thought that these vending machines were brand new. Not exactly. The digital interface simply improves on an idea around since the 1950s and 1960s. Some vending machine models during that period would provide a paper cup and fill it up, too. 

Vending Machines Everywhere

Now vending machines appear nearly everywhere. You can scarcely travel anywhere on the planet and not run across a handy dispenser of ice cold Coca-Cola. And that can be a comforting source of stability in these trying times.