Vending machines have come a long way since the first one was invented in ancient Egypt, when a mathematician invented a device that dispensed holy water in return for a bronze coin.
These days vending machines commonly give out drinks and snacks and there are even vending machine restaurants. But there's more than just food and drink on offer – a whole host of these mechanical shops around the world stock all sorts of strange wares. Here are a few of our favourites.
Gift giving is one of the holiday season’s greatest joys, but we’ve all got that friend or family member who is impossible to buy for. Thankfully, S*uce in Dubai’s Village Mall has the answer: the gift vending machine dispenses everything from scented candles to perfume and lingerie – all at the touch of a button. And you don’t need to worry about wrapping it either, because your chosen present will come in a beautiful, shiny gold gift bag.
The Art-o-mat is actually a reconfigured cigarette machine, but instead of dispensing cigarettes, it dispenses piece of art. The concept is the brainchild of North Carolina-based artist Clark Whittington, and there are now over a hundred Art-o-mats dotted throughout America. Each one is filled with miniature masterpieces created by local artists, who can apply to have their work stocked by the machine.
It might seem like Hello Kitty is taking over the world – or at least parts of Asia – as branded vending machines can now be found throughout the continent, from Taiwan to Malaysia. They’re stocked with anything from Hello Kitty shampoo to Hello Kitty socks, toys and books and purses. You’ll never have to go without your Hello Kitty kitsch again…
It’s wonderfully easy to get your five-a-day in Japan, thanks to Dole’s banana vending machines. These machines have been around since 2010, when the banana brand installed its first one in a Tokyo subway station. Your snack is guaranteed to be in a state of optimum freshness too, because the machine keeps cool at a temperature of 13ºC (55ºF) – the ideal temperature for bananas, apparently.
There may be no more nostalgic vending machine than a Coca-Cola dispenser. The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in Mississippi has one of the original vintage Coca-Cola vending machines, which dispenses the old style glass bottles of the country’s favourite drink for just five cents.
Since Sprinkles Cupcakes opened its first cupcakes ATM in back in 2012, it has been easy for Americans to get their sugar hit at any hour. The Sprinkles bakery ATM – found at several Sprinkles stores across the country – offers up freshly-baked cupcakes in a variety of flavours, from red velvet to peanut butter chocolate, 24 hours a day.
While technological advances can be seen as a threat to our beloved paperbacks, this isn’t the case in Singapore. Enter the book vending machine at the National Museum of Singapore, where technology is actually making it easier for bookworms to get their fix the traditional way. You can get anything from children’s titles to graphic novels or poetry collections.
Crab is such a popular dish in China and Japan that the invention of vending machines that sell live crabs was inevitable, right? These machines first appeared in China and Japan in 2010, and have proven to be a hit since. The live crab comes with the essential accompaniments – vinegar and some ginger tea – so get ready to chow down.
Admittedly this particular machine is designed with a small audience in mind, but for those last-minute fishing excursions when you remembered everything but the bait, it might just save the day. Located throughout America, they’re stocked with all types of fish fodder, including minnows, mealworms and maggots. Delicious.
Beer vending machines first appeared in Japan, and now they can be found in almost every town and city, with most Japanese beer brands having their own branded dispensers. In the early 2000s concerns relating to underage drinking led to many of them being fitted with electronic driving license scanners, and it appears the concerns were valid, as sales from some vending machines dropped by 50%.
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Top image: Japanese girl wearing kimono buying drinks from the vending machine © PR Image Factory/Shutterstock
Tamara is a former snowboard instructor who's been a freelance travel writer for 12 years. She loves snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and scuba diving, and the regions she knows best are Asia, America and Africa. Europe-wise she knows Germany and France very well. In normal times she does two or three trips a month. Follow her on Twitter