Press Release

The Automatic Age: Coin-Operated Machines

CONTACT: Charles Schuler
Director of Communications
San Francisco International Airport


The Automatic Age: Coin-Operated Machines
New exhibition presents wooden trade stimulators, novelty gum vendors, early racing games, and other automatic marvels

SAN FRANCISCO - December 12, 2017 - Coin-operated machines combined mechanical novelty and automated convenience.  At the drop of a coin, they vended goods, provided entertainment, and offered potential jackpot payouts and free merchandise.  These intriguing devices incorporated decorative graphics and innovative mechanisms that captured the attention of people worldwide.  Installed on store counters and in saloons, hotels, amusement arcades, and other public places, coin-operated machines generated revenue from clientele and passersby with minimal supervision and maintenance.

During the late 1800s, the coin-operated, automatic age expanded into the United States with the invention of a multitude of gambling devices, trade stimulators, vending machines, and arcade games.  By the turn of the 20th century, coin-operated amusement parlors captivated the public with automatic phonographs and motion picture viewers.  Almost overnight, amusement parlors transformed into penny arcades, stocked with a variety of automatic music machines, picture viewers, fortune-telling scales, strength testers, and other arcade games.  The popularity of coin-operated devices surged again during the Great Depression, when new inventions such as pinball machines and amplified jukeboxes provided affordable entertainment.

All objects are courtesy of Joe Welch American Antique Museum in San Bruno, California.

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The Automatic Age: Coin-Operated Machines is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport.  This exhibition is on view to all Airport visitors from December 16, 2017 to August 5, 2018.  There is no charge to view the exhibition.

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