Like Mickey Mouse, the Ford Mustang and suburban tract homes, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola vending machine has earned a coveted position in American pop culture. Since 1929, when the first cooler standing on rickety legs offered a bottled Coke for a nickel, the Coca-Cola embossed red machine has been a mainstay in virtually every gas station, supermarket, public building and deserted outpost. Today, vintage Coke machines are serviced and sold to collectors for top dollar.

The Beginning

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Coca-Cola was already America's top-selling soft drink in 1928 when sales of bottled Coke finally outstripped soda fountain sales. In 1929, Glascock Brothers Manufacturing Co. of Muncie, Indiana, introduced Coke's first vending machine, a 151-lb. ice box that held 72 6-ounce bottles. Each Coke sold for a 5 cents, payable to the clerk.

Prewar Machines

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Through the 1930s, Glascock manufactured Coca-Cola "Junior" and "Standard" cooler. The Junior coolers were designed to fit on countertops, as wall mounts or in shops with minimal floor space. The Standard weighed 500 lbs., held 36 bottles in ice water and was equipped with casters so it could be moved around.

Wartime

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Two companies emerged in 1937 that distributed Cola-Cola machines. Vendo Company was originally based in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Vendorlator Manufacturing Company based in Fresno, California. At the outbreak of World War II, Coca-Cola pledged to provide all U.S. servicemen free Cokes. The U.S. government deemed soft drinks essential to troop morale. Vendo manufactured 5,000 machines for military bases and civilian factories. Vendo and Vendorlator merged in 1956.

Postwar Era

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Postwar Coke machines are now considered a work of art. Until 1956, all Coke machines were painted red and emblazoned with the Coca-Cola script. In 1956, the two-tone white over read units by Vendorlator replaced the older versions. Models ranged from the tiny Vendorlator VMC 44 to the "world's largest" VMC 350. Vendo offered the V-44, which was virtually identical to Vendorlator's small model.

The Coin is the Thing

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Early coin-operated machines operated simply by depositing a nickel, opening the door, and retrieving a Coke. No change was given. Later machines were developed to dispense nickel change for a dime. When prices rose to 10 cents, change could be given for a quarter. Machines today routinely accept $1 and $5 bills and dispense change.

Models

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Bottle vending machines were supplanted by can-dispensing machines by the early 1960s because cans didn't break and cooled faster. But up until then, Vendo 1950s models offered the popular 81-bottle 58-by-27-by-16-inch vending machine that weighted 286 lbs. It also distributed the odd "Spin Top" model that allowed access to Cokes through the top center section, dispensed on a rotating wheel.

Today

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The red-and-white Coca-Cola vending machine remains today as perhaps the most recognizable vending machine worldwide. Current models display the entire selection of drinks through a glass window. The slim, vertical windowed door is mostly a relic of the past. Businesses that lease these machines stock competing soft drinks in the Coke machine, but are under contract to stock a minimum number of Coca-Cola products.