“A kiss may be grand but it won’t pay the rental on your humble flat, or help you at the AUTOMAT” “
Horn and Hardart’s Automat, founded in Philadelphia in 1902 and opened in New York ten years later, was once the world’s largest restaurant chain with, at its peak, 180 shops serving 800,000 customers a day. Unlike any other restaurant before or since, the Automat was nothing less than a giant vending machine, dispensing fresh, tasty, and inexpensive food from compartments behind small windows (as in the photo above). The establishment was essentially a self-service restaurant or cafeteria. Each compartment was opened by dropping one or more nickels in its slot. The Automat was not really “automatic,” however. Whenever a customer removed an item from its compartment, it was quickly replaced by a human being who worked behind the scenes.
What accounted for the Automat’s popularity? It was modern and high-tech in its day. The food was fresh, inexpensive and fast, and the fact that it was kept in glass-fronted compartments gave customers confidence in the restaurant’s cleanliness and sanitation. It was also a novelty and dropping nickels in the slots was endlessly entertaining for children and even for adults who did not eat there frequently.