You could say modern day vending machines got their start from Horn & Hardart. The restaurant chain that revolutionized the way Americans ate burst on to the scene 100 years ago. The nickel-slot machines served up warm and cold meals in good times and bad and created a smorgasbord of memories along the way.
They were a delicious slice of American life at the turn of the 20th century. The coin-operated automat or vending machine restaurants that fed both the stomachs and memories of generations in New York City and Philadelphia.
A new book and exhibit at the museum of the city of new york celebrates 100 years of the automat and pays homage to the comfort foods and concept that spread across America and left people craving more.
“People want that sense of community and family and warmth and I think that's what people respond to still,“ said Marianne Hardart. The co-authors say the fast-food idea caught on at a time when America's workforce was changing.
Marianne Hardart is the great-granddaughter of frank Hardart, who along with Joe Horn launched the vending machine concept in Philadelphia in 1902. The first automat in New York City opened up in 1912, in Times Square, when you could get a cup of coffee for a nickel and a meal for as little as a dime.
The automat thrived during the depression with 84 locations, but the restaurants and food-dispensing machines faded out when the golden arches and suburbia came into view. “They liked hamburgers, McDonalds and all that garbage,” said Walter Frank, an automat customer.
Although remnants of the automat are still visible in today's vending machines, the memories that an era gone by, served up, will never be replaced.
The last automat closed in New York City in 1991, but you can still dish about the memories online by (clicking here). There are even recipes of some the favorites like macaroni & cheese, baked beans and pumpkin pie.