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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 24, June 14, 2009, Article 23

THE WORLD'S FIRST COIN-OPERATED VENDING MACHINE

It's not exactly numismatic, but the above mention of temple donations reminded me that I wanted to write about something interesting my father-in-law was watching on TV a week or so ago. It was a History Channel episode on various mechanical gizmos designed for ancient temples to capture attention and generate awe in the temple-going public. The greatest designer of these contraptions was Heron, a Greek mathematician and engineer. The show, titled "Ancient Discoveries" originally aired in 2007 and features recreations of many of Heron's devices.

One was a mechanism to automatically open the temple doors. No big deal today, where every supermarket and office building has automatic doors. But huge ceremonial doors weighing tons? The temple priests would address the congregation on the steps of the temple and light a sacrificial fire. The heat of the fire created a vacuum in a hidden chamber below, and the mechanism caused the temple doors to open themselves. To the assembled crowd it was magic or the Hand of God.

Other altar sculptures would dance or sing, all powered by simple principles of water, gravity, heat or vacuum. It was amazing to see what clever people could build without the benefit of today's technology. McGivver would be right at home.

Anyway, one of the simplest devices turned out to be worth a fortune to the temple priests. Heron devised what was essentially a primitive coin-operated vending machine.

From Wikipedia:
His machine accepted a coin and then dispensed a fixed amount of holy water. When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.


To read the Wikipedia article, see: Vending machine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vending_machine)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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