Gumball Machines

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

gumball machines, with simple instructions like “Hold hand under opening. Insert coin. Crank knob,” have made chewing gum readily available to the public on the go since 1888, when penny pieces began to be sold from a vending machine inside a New York City elevated rapid transit station. The hollow orbs of chewing gum covered in brightly colored candy shells known as gumballs were first sold from machines released by the Thomas Adams Gum Company in 1907. Traditional gumball machines, including the 1915 Digesto, and the Master Fantail manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s by Norris Manufacturing Company, consist of glass domes atop shiny chrome bases with coin slots, turning knobs, and chutes covered with metal flaps. Cheerful advertising decals attract customers, and discrete keyholes in the tops of the domes enable merchants to refill the machines. Founded in 1934, the Ford Gum and Machine Company sold tablet-shaped gum in rectangular dispensers that shared profits with service organizations such as the Lions Club and Kiwanis International. Whether perceived in a positive or negative light, gum chewing has always been considered in relation to personal appearance, and the 1940s saw the advent of eye-level mirrors attached to gum-vending machines. In the early 1990s, OK Manufacturing of Salt Lake City, Utah, began distributing a 5-foot 8-inch attention-grabber called Gumball Falls. Holding up to 4,250 large gumballs, this machine releases a variety of flavored gumballs down dual spiraling tracks to the accompaniment of peppy music and flashing lights. In 2012 OK released a table-sized version that enables users to play pinball with a 1-inch gumball before it is dispensed.