9. Novelty Vending Machines

In the era before cell phones, a newspaper and a cigarette were necessities for subway commuters. The man who made newspapers and other conveniences like gum easily available to the rail-riding public was Artemis Ward. He noticed that time-strapped commuters rushed past newspaper carts at subway station entrances, but had more “compulsory leisure time” once they actually got to the platform and had to wait for their trains. In 1889, Ward acquired a vending permit for the entire New York Transit system, which was above ground at the time. When the underground subway system boomed in the early 1900s, Ward’s exclusive contract and advertising rights made him a fortune. In addition to newspaper and magazine vendors, New York City subway platforms hosted vending machines that dispensed soda, coffee, candy, gum, and horoscopes. Commuters could use their time waiting on the platform to see into their future or measure their weight for as little as five cents. Vintage photographs of the subway show gum and cigarette dispensers inside columns on subway platforms.

In 2013, L’Oreal brought vending machines back, for a moment, when the company put high-tech cosmetic dispensing machines at the 42nd Street-Bryant Park station. A wish list compiled by our office at Untapped Cities includes vending machines that dispense hand sanitizer, healthy snacks, Tide pens, and cupcakes.