There’s nothing quite like sneaking out to a vending machine for a cheeky snack during a break. Whether you’re finishing up your extracurriculars at school, doing research late at night at university, or burning the midnight oil at the office, there is something mundanely magical about feeding bits of metal into a robot that spits out food. It feels like something that you’d find in an old sci-fi novel.
Vending machines are incredibly cool and convenient inventions that still blow our minds every time we start thinking about how weirdly retrofuturistic a concept they are. However, they have become so ubiquitous in our lives that many of us barely ever notice them anymore. Fortunately, it’s possible to change that in a heartbeat—all you need is a uniquely-designed machine that sells something unexpected! There are far more interesting things than just candy bars and cans of soda for sale, after all.
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Our team at Bored Panda has collected photos of some of the coolest, most unusual, and downright bizarre vending machines from around the globe. We’d love to share them with you, so scroll down and upvote your fave pics, dear Pandas. [Ting, Whrrrrrr, Clunk.] When you’ve enjoyed this list to the fullest, check out Bored Panda’s previous collection of awesome vending machines right over here.
Bored Panda was interested to learn about customer convenience, automation, and the importance of the ‘human factor,’ so we got in touch with Matt Johnson, Ph.D., the host of the Neuroscience of Branding blog and the Human Nature blog. Johnson is a professor of consumer psychology at Hult International Business School and Harvard University, and the author of ‘Branding that Means Business.’ Read on for his insights about the trade-off that vending machines provide consumers, and why human interactions while buying things are still important to us, no matter how much we might love convenience.
#1 Dallas Love Field Airport Offers Free Feminine Hygiene Products
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#2 This Vending Machine In Istanbul Dispenses Dog Food For Homeless Dogs When People Put Bottles In For Recycling
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#3 Every Street Corner Should Have One
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Professor Johnson, the host of the Neuroscience of Branding blog, as well as the Human Nature blog, kindly shared his perspective on the relative importance of convenience versus interacting with other people.
“Provided there are no issues with the technology, vending machines pose an interesting trade-off in the consumer’s mind. On the one hand, they provide a quick, easy, seamless translation. On the other hand, they lack a human touch and provide no social interaction,” he explained to Bored Panda what the trade-off looks like. “As a whole, this ‘human factor’ is very important for the consumer. As social creatures, we benefit immensely from social interaction—even for something as simple as small talk with a shopkeeper or grocery store clerk.”
However, neither factor is more important than the other. What a consumer “prefers in the moment depends on their overall diet of consumer interactions,” Johnson said.
“At one extreme, if ALL transactions are done through automated systems, and are completely devoid of human interaction, this is very likely problematic. Here, the consumer will (or should) rightly crave more human interaction, especially if this is lacking in other areas of their life.”
#4 This Machine Dispenses Food For Stray Animals Whenever Items Are Recycled Into It
Image credits: MotoTraveling
#5 This Train Station In Romania Has A Book Vending Machine
Image credits: BlueCl0ud
#6 Taking Historic Architecture Into Account When Adding Vending Machines
Image credits: VanillaLoaf
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What makes the ‘human factor’ in social interactions even more important is the rise of automated systems, especially if you include e-commerce into the mix. “When people can so easily get their basic consumer needs met with automated systems, the social interactions have a lot to compete with. The role of a cashier becomes much more about scanning items and completing a transaction. It needs to provide something that the mere utility of the products can’t—empathy and human interaction.”
Meanwhile, we were curious to get the professor’s opinion about the spread of automatization, and whether the process is inevitable. One area where automatization has increased is self-checkouts at grocery stores. However, the systems aren’t perfect. In fact, they have some pretty serious downsides.
“Despite its growth, self-checkout has been challenging for both consumers as well as for food retailers. Research suggests that consumers strongly prefer cashiers and regularly experience frustration with self-check-out technology. And despite the promise of lowering costs, automated check-out machines, in practice, increase costs for the median grocery store,” Johnson, the author of ‘Branding that Means Business,’ told us.
“This is due to the fact that automated check-out systems require regular technical maintenance, and also because there is often more theft and/or unaccounted items in stores that rely heavily on self-check-out systems,” he explained what can go wrong.
#7 Sunscreen Dispenser On Sydney Beaches
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#8 Waiting For A Flight? This Airport Has A Machine That Teaches You How To Give CPR
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#9 A Town In Serbia Started Using Recycling Machines That Also Feed Stray Dogs
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“The growing popularity of these systems amongst retail chains is owed largely to the promise that, over time, these teething effects will come down, along with the costs. And that over time, as labor costs are likely to increase, an automated system investment will prove to be a wise hedge.” Because of this, Johnson believes that we’re likely to see automation “across the board,” from self-checkout to vending machines and beyond, for “relatively low-cost products from mass-market brands.”
“However, for brands with a higher-end image to protect, we’ll likely see much less adoption, as frustrations with these technologies and the coldness of the interaction can reflect poorly on the brand image.” If you found Professor Johnson’s insights useful, consider taking a look at his Neuroscience of Branding blog, as well as his Human Nature blog where he covers a range of interesting topics.
We love the smooth—yet sometimes clunky—interactivity of vending machines. You fish out some pocket change, you insert a handful of coins, and then patiently wait for the whirring mechanism to spit out a treat. But the machine itself is older than you might think.
The history of vending machines is pretty wild! For instance, you might consider the very first vending machines to be the ones set up by Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, who created a device that dispensed holy water inside Egyptian temples.
#10 Honey Dispenser At A Hotel In Japan
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#11 This Vending Machine At The Hospital Sells Healthy, Affordable Meals
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#12 Cake Dispenser In Toronto
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Or you might decide that the roots of these machines lie in England, around 1615, where you’d find small machines that dispensed tobacco in taverns. However, they were still very limited in the scope of what was on offer to customers.
The next step in the process was the introduction of newspaper dispensers in 1822, by English publisher and bookshop owner Richard Carlile. However, it wasn’t until half a century later that the first fully automatic vending machines were created. They dispensed stamps.
The first modern commercial vending machines were found in London, England, in post offices and railway stations. By 1888, these machines began to spread in the United States. The very first ones sold Tutti-Fruiti gum. Nine years later, the gum was ‘spiced up’ by adding illustrated figures to appeal to more customers. In 1907, we saw the arrival of the iconic gumball machines.
#13 Most Tests Here Are Around 2-3€ Each But We Also As Citizens Get 1 Free Rapid Test A Day From The Government So We Can Attend Restaurants, Events, And Gyms
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#14 They Definitely Should Put The Baguette Machine Next To The Cheese Machine
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#15 Short Story Dispenser At Los Angeles Public Library Central
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The vending machine craze was massive. You could even find coin-operated restaurants. This is, in part, why vending machines give us such strong mid-century retrofuturistic vibes.
They were a key part of how Americans and Brits of the last century imagined the future: you’d see automation in every aspect of life.
It was around 2006 that more and more vending machines started to have credit card scanners on them, meaning that you no longer had to pay with cash.
These days, you’ll still find individuals who carry cash on their person. However, this is becoming less and less common, as everyone slowly embraces a cashless society. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2022, 41% of Americans don’t use cash for any purchases in a typical week. That number has increased from 29% in 2018 and 24% in 2015.
#16 University Has A Vending Machine With All The Things You Need As A Student, From Sanitary Pads To A Powerbank
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#17 LEGO Vending Machine! Chicago O’Hare Airport
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#18 This Feminine Hygiene Product Dispenser Gives Tampons And Pads For Free
Image credits: Complete_Atmosphere9
The last time that Bored Panda featured the coolest vending machines from around the world, our colleague spoke to Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies in the school of literature, media, and communication at Georgia Tech.
“Vending machines often feel like symbols of modernity—after all, they embody the efficiency, convenience, affordability, and novelty that consumers crave and merchants want to provide,” she said.
However, Yaszek noted that vending machines are actually very old, ancient even, “popping up in some form or another whenever large groups of people gather in urban spaces.”
“People often credit Hero of Alexandria with inventing the first vending machine (for holy water!) in first-century Roman Egypt, and by the 1600s, English tavern patrons could expect to find portable, coin-operated tobacco dispensers at their local watering hole,” she told Bored Panda.
#19 So Cool, Forget A Birthday Late At Night? A Date? Flowers Always Ready
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#20 At The Cemetery In My Neighborhood There Is A Vending Machine Selling Grave Lanterns And Candles
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#21 A Vending Machine Full Of Crochet Materials
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“While inventors tinkered with everything from machines that sold banned books to machines that offered stamps, the modern vending craze really took off when Englishman Percival Everitt introduced a machine for selling postcards in 1883—and when the Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company was founded just 4 years later to install and maintain such machines!” Yaszek explained to our colleague during an earlier interview.
“The first American and Japanese vending machines (for gum and tobacco, respectively) were introduced in 1888, the first French machines (for beer, wine, and liquor) appeared in 1890, and the first German vending machine (for chocolate) debuted in 1893,” she said.
#22 This Butcher Has A Vending Machine For After Hours
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#23 Pharmacy In Spain Has A 24-Hour Vending Machine Outside For When It Is Closed
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#24 A Cheese Vending Machine In A Mountain Village In Switzerland
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“Business people loved vending machines because they could sell bulk goods efficiently, without having to train and depend on another human, and consumers enjoyed the ability to purchase everyday necessities and small, trendy luxuries at their convenience and often at a reasonable price point.”
As time marched on, more and more varied items were sold in vending machines. “I think the strangest vending machines were those that sold life insurance in airports from the 1950s to the 1970s—it really takes the glamour out of flying to worry about your possible death while doing so! But maybe that felt glamorous in its own strange way…” the expert said.
#25 Japanese Vending Machines Adapted To The Surroundings
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#26 I Dared To Dream That A Vacant Retail Space Could Feed Me
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#27 This Bakery In Japan Puts Their Leftover Bread In A Vending Machine To Sell After Hours
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Niche items were begun to be sold, from dog toys to pet owners to bait supplies for fishing enthusiasts, and even original art and stories for people who loved culture. Meanwhile, digital vending machines started tracking purchases and began offering individuals targeted goods.
“And of course, vending machines can be a tool for public health and creativity as well! Vending machines in schools, public bathrooms, and outside pharmacies empower customers to acquire food and medicine when they need it, even if shops are not open, and they enable people to anonymously purchase items that they might be too embarrassed to buy from another human being,” Yaszek told Bored Panda about the upsides of vending machines.
#28 My Gym’s Vending Machine Organizes Water Based On It’s Temperature
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#29 Succulent Vending Machine In A Nearby Mall
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#30 Vending Machine At The Oktoberfest Fair Grounds In Munich
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#31 My Hotel Has A Nutella Dispenser
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#32 Pretty Sure Most Of These Games Are Bootlegs, But I Just Thought It Was So Weird To See Something Like This At A Mall
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#33 My Workplace Installed Sunscreen Dispensers
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#34 My Hospital Has A Boba Tea Vending Machine. I Spent Almost Every Childhood Weekend In The Doctor’s Lounge At Some Point And Would Have Appreciated This
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#35 I Stumbled Upon A Cupcake ATM
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#36 My University Installed A Free HIV Test Dispenser
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#37 I Buy Honey From Backroad Beekeeper Stands. This One Was On A Georgia Dirt Road
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#38 Instead Of Sugary Treats, Fatty Chips, Or High-Calorie Sodas, A Vending Machine At This Elementary School Is Filled With Books
Image credits: Mallory Hughes
#39 The Post Office Box Has A Vending Machine For Stamps And Parcels
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#40 My Local Library’s Men’s Bathroom Has A Tampon Dispenser
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#41 I Feel I Should Add That It’s Sunshine Laundromat In Greenpoint. They Also Have Mad Pinball Machines
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#42 This Sriracha Vending Machine I Stumbled Upon In Japan Today
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#43 This German Vending Machine Has Everything You Might Need During Your Hiking Tour: Pilsner Beer, Eggs, Goulash, White Beer, Aspic, Lemonade, And Goat Cheese
Image credits: BaronVonBroccoli
#44 In One Village In Czechia, They Have A Vending Machine For Potatoes, AKA The Potat-O-Mat. People Can Use It To Get Local Fresh Potatoes Just By Inserting A Few Coins
The machine is completely automatic.
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#45 Germany Has Meat Vending Machines
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#46 Milk Dispenser In Greece
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#47 First Narcan Vending Machine In Austin At 4430 Menchaca
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#48 Vending Machines In Switzerland Sell Pregnancy Tests Called “Maybe Baby”
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#49 This Flip-Flop Vending Machine I Found In Sidney
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#50 A Supermarket I Visited In Germany Has A Bread Dispenser
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#51 A Town In Serbia Started Using Recycling Machines That Also Feed Stray Dogs