Author Topic: Food for coin  (Read 261 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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Food for coin
« on: June 11, 2008, 06:14:52 PM »
Put a Nickel In, Take Your Food Out
By Randy Alfred   06.09.08
 
Joe Horn and Frank Hardart open the Automat at 818 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. It's America's first coin-operated cafeteria.
Customers would put nickels into slots, turn a knob and open a little glass door to get their food. Horn and Hardart used Swedish-patented equipment they'd imported from Berlin, which already sported a successful "waiterless restaurant."
Some sources place opening day on June 9, others June 12. What's not in dispute is the place was a bargain. The price of a cup of coffee stayed at a nickel from 1912 (when it was worth about $1.10 in today's money) until 1950 (a mere 45 cents today), before it inevitably rose to two nickels.
The company branched out to New York's Times Square in 1912 and continued to expand its operation. The firm also designed its own improved automat equipment.
Employees serving as "nickel throwers" at the head of the line exchanged currency or large coins for the nickels you'd need for the coin slots. One nickel for coffee, five for the turkey and gravy, another nickel for pie. You'd also have your choice of other diner-food favorites, including a famous macaroni and cheese, chicken potpie, Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and baked beans. Desserts were also renowned: huckleberry, pumpkin, coconut-cream and custard pies, as well as vanilla ice cream with real vanilla beans, and rice pudding with plump raisins.
It was all prepared in centralized, assembly-line kitchens using standardized recipes that called for quality ingredients. This, plus 85 locations in Philadelphia and New York, made it America's first fast-food chain.
The famous coffee that poured from coin-and-crank-operated dolphin-shaped spouts was never more than 20 minutes old. Irving Berlin composed "Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee" about it, and the ditty became Horn & Hardart's theme song.
That's not the Automat's only spot in American culture. Edward Hopper painted it in 1927. The original Broadway set for The Producers incorporated some of the Automat. And then there's the Concerto for Horn and Hardart by P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele).
Price increases eventually replaced knuckles full of nickels with quantities of quarters and even special tokens that you had to go get from the cashier. All this reduced both the efficiency and the charm of the Automat, because efficiency and economy were in fact the very heart of its charm.
The chain finally succumbed to the ever-rising price of ingredients for its original recipes, changing tastes and of course the growing popularity of fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King, as well as New York & Philadelphia's plethora of pizza places. Philly's last Automat closed in 1990, and New York's (on East 42nd Street) a year later. The company closed its last bakery cafe in 2005.
The Automat lives on in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. There you can see an elaborately decorated, 35-foot section of Philadelphia’s original 1902 Horn & Hardart, complete with mirrors and marble. It ain't your father's fast food, but it may be your great-grandma's comfort food.

Illustration: The first Automat offered Philadelphians sanitary, standardized food in a dignified, even ornate, environment when it opened in 1902. Scan of contemporary postcard

Source: Wired
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Food for coin
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2008, 06:25:45 PM »
There are more pics on the site. These institutions, though slightly modernized in style ;), still exist in the Netherlands. Their specialty is fatty junk food of the very worst kind.

Many, many years ago, one of my fellow students caused a wonderful row in one as we returned from a slaughterhouse with cow spare parts (don't ask). He took some product from the highest level of trays and replaced it with a piece of yuck cow blubber. We were lucky enough to see the effect. A short, stocky construction worker landed his full hand in the blubber. The gentleman was neither amused, nor given to eloquence, but he insistently rang the bell for requests and complaints. When the window opened, he vented his considerable frustration by hitting the appearing face with a right that would have made a boxer jealous. Unfortunately, while most customers fell silent, our little group of students was laughing hysterically. This made things clear to our blue collar worker, so the story ends with us running for our lives...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline humpybong

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Re: Food for coin
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2008, 01:05:56 AM »


Great story, thanks.

Goes to show time changes
Barry



"Experience enables you to recognise a mistake when you make it a again"

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Food for coin
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2008, 12:43:37 PM »
Does anyone have an illustration of the Horn and Hardart token mentioned in the article?

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.