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Online Counter Lock, Stock, and History, The Ancient Vending Machine —- Heron of...
Lock, Stock, and History

The Ancient Vending Machine —- Heron of Alexandria,

Heron of Alexandria (also called “Hero”) was a mathematician, engineer, and scientist who lived in Roman Egypt in the 1st century AD.  A brilliant man, he was an inventor first and foremost, and invented many things that we take for granted today.  Some of his most notable inventions was the automatically opening door, a water pump, the wind organ, and an early form of the steam engine.

One of my favorite of Heron’s inventions was the ancient world’s version of the vending machine.  Heron’s vending machine was common in temples at the time and used to dispense holy water to worshipers.  A person inserted a coin in the tab, placed a cup under the tap, and the machine would dispense a measured and uniform amount of water into the cup.  To the temple goers it was a miracle straight from the gods, to Heron it was a simple work of engineering.

When When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.  Unfortunately Heron’s vending machine was never used for commercial purposes.  The first commercial vending machines didn’t appear until the late 19th century.

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