A vending machine is a machine that sells various snacks, beverages, coffee and other products to consumers. The idea is to vend products without a cashier. Items sold in vending machines vary by country and region.
Vending machines are usually there for short snacks during mirienda time.
Patrons may also buy nonfood items like newspapers or DVDs. One company selling the latter is Redbox in the United States.
In some countries, merchants may sell alcoholic beverages such as beer through vending machines, while other countries do not allow this practice (usually because of dram shop laws).
Cigarettes were commonly sold in the United States through these machines, but this practice is increasingly rare due to concerns about under aged buyers. Sometimes a pass has to be inserted in the machine to prove one's age. In some countries like Germany and Japan, by contrast, cigarette machines are still common. Vending machines were used at airports from the 1950s well into the 1970s to sell life insurance policies covering death in the event that the buyer's flight crashed. Such policies were quite profitable, because the risk of any given flight crashing was (and remains) very low, but this practice gradually disappeared due to the tendency of American courts to strictly construe such policies against their sellers, such as Mutual of Omaha.
The first recorded reference to a vending machine is found in the work of Hero of Alexandria, a first-century engineer and mathematician. 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.
Despite this early precedent, vending machines had to wait for the Industrial Age before they came to prominence. The first modern coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, England in the early 1880s, dispensing post cards. The first vending machine in the U.S. was built in 1888 by the Thomas Adams Gum Company, selling gum on train platforms. The idea of adding simple games to these machines as a further incentive to buy came in 1897 when the Pulver Manufacturing Company added small figures which would move around whenever somebody bought some gum from their machines. This simple idea spawned a whole new type of mechanical device known as the "trade stimulators". The birth of slot machines and pinball is ultimately rooted in these early devices.
Steven v. Fidelity & Casualty Co.(1962) 58 C2d 862
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ancient_calendar.html Old World, High Tech: World's First Vending Machine
"History of the Vending Machine" page of Gumballs.com.