The Vendo Company History
The Vendo Company is known worldwide as having been a leader in the manufacture of vending machines for more than 50 years. Vendo was founded as a small company in 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri as a manufacturer of bottled soft drink vending machines. Prior to this, early vendors had not been coin operated machines, but rather self-serve coolers packed with ice. This system relied on the customers’ honesty.
The first coin-operated vending machines appeared in the early 1880’s. They were first used to dispense postcards and books. These early models did not work well, often jamming. They also did not have the necessary safeguards and could not distinguish between a coin and a slug.
In the late 1930’s, two brothers named Elmer and John Pierson saw a need for improvement to the earlier designs and took out a patent for a vending lid that could be added to existing coolers. This lid called “The Red Top”, was simple, reliable and inexpensive. The lid was locked on top of the cooler and could be opened after a coin was inserted. The lid rotated to the next available bottle, eliminating the need to dig through the ice. At first the lids were added to Frigidaire and Westinghouse coolers that were already in use. Vendo then began buying coolers from Westinghouse and outfitting them with The Red Top and selling the resulting vending machines under the Vendo name. Early examples of this were the Vendo Junior and the Vendo Master (both from the late 30’s to early 40’s). In the 40’s, a compressor was added to soft drink bottle coolers, eliminating the need for ice altogether.
Red Top lids went to war during WWII, after the US War Department declared that soft drinks were necessary to the morale of military personnel. 5,000 Red Tops were made to be placed in military training camps and wartime factories. Vendo also manufactured radar detection systems which aided in the war effort. After the war, Vendo went back to designing soda vending machines, and produced the V-83 in 1946. The V-83 was Vendo’s first mass-produced upright coin-operated machine. A nickel was inserted, and then you simply had to lift the small door to get your bottle of Coke. This model’s great success was followed in 1949 by another highly successful vendor—the V-39.
In the 1950’s Vendo diversified its product line and produced machines that could vend other items like hot food, ice cream and milk. They also experimented with fully automated restaurants, convenience stores and drive-ins that were served only by vending machines. Vendo merged with its competitor, Vendorlator in 1956. They had, like Vendo, been founded in 1937. But where Vendo worked mainly with Coca-Cola, Vendorlator had been working with both Pepsi-Cola and Royal Crown. The merger of these two companies made Vendo the primary supplier to the soft drink market. Vendo also went public in 1956 and their stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 1961 and continued to for the next 20 years. Vendo also expanded internationally, working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan starting in 1962, where they manufactured Vendo beverage coolers. They also licensed operations in England and Mexico. In 1964 they opened new facilities and contracted out to Belgium, Australia, Italy, Germany, France and Canada. The 60’s also brought Vendo’s introduction of the canned soft drink dispensers.
In the 1970’s, due to the energy crisis, vending machines were determined to be nonessential and the vending industry began to suffer. Vendo left Kansas City and sold its snack vendor division. In 1988 Vendo was bought by the Sanden Corporation of Japan. This infused new life into the Vendo company, and led to many innovations in vending machine design. These include programmable electronic vending machines, high-capacity vendors that can hold plastic bottles in many shapes and sizes, and machines that will take a debit card. Today Vendo is expanding into territories like Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Not only has Vendo produced many highly collectible vendors in their past, but they also continue to be a significant presence in the manufacturing marketplace.
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