Would you take a piece of bubble gum from this band?

Would you take a piece of bubble gum from this band?

Decade after decade, these little machines have stood by doorways, calling for our attention at the supermarket, the drugstore, the liquor store, the mini-mart, the dollar discount store, and the family restaurant. Depending on what year it is, they offer anyone with a little change just about anything that can be crammed into a small dispenser: plastic toys, cheap jewelry, mini Superballs, pogs, Hang Ten feet, peace signs, skeletons, eyeballs, monster decals, watches, rabbits feet, tattoos, Homies, saints, and lucky charms.

At the center of all this trendy trash is the gumball machine, which dates all the way back to the 1800s. Thomas Adams, the father of the modern chewing gum (and maker of the classic black licorice gum, Black Jack) installed the first American chewing gum vending machine at a New York subway station in 1888. The flavor was Tutti-Fruiti.

Over the next century, the vending machines began to dispense candy as well as gum, and the competition between these neighboring machines elicited a wave of creative names and vending machine cards to catch the attention of America’s youth culture. At the end of this article is a gallery of some of my favorites!

Classic Candy 800dpiIf you’d like to read more about American candy and culture from its golden age, check out my new book, “Classic Candy: America’s Favorite Sweets, 1950-80,” available at amazon.com, powells.com, and barnesandnoble.com. It’s available in a print edition as well as NOOK Book and Kindle.

For more candy memories and links to booksellers, visit


Darlene Lacey

About Darlene Lacey

Darlene is the author of "Classic Candy: America's Favorite Sweets, 1950-80" and curator of the Candy Wrapper Museum, which is comprised of her personal collection which she began as a teenager in the 70s. The CWM has been featured in numerous TV shows, magazines, newspapers and blogs, and made its art gallery debut in 2010 at the Scion Space's "Palate" show.
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