Dwight Robertson of Lubbock Texas asks "Whatever happened to . . ."
Vending-machine cafes used to serve up baked beans and slices of apple pie, all for a nickel a throw.
The automat was at the cutting edge of technology at the turn of the century. Joseph Horn and Paul Hardart opened their first automat (from "automatic") in Philadelphia in 1902. At their peak in the 1940s and '50s, automats served 350,000 patrons daily. But fast-food chains eventually pushed them aside. The last Horn & Hardart automat closed in New York City in 1991.
But don't mourn the loss of an American icon just yet. Steve Stollman, a vintage-goods dealer in New York City, has high hopes for an automat revival. "Restaurant owners are coming to me to buy old automat machines," he says. "I know one of them is going to realize the automat would make a great theme restaurant."