Vending machines make the sale of anything possible, anywhere, anytime. Nearly any cafe, filling station, souvenir shop or tavern offered cigarettes for the convenience of inserting a few coins.
The first models appeared in 1928, as an attractive tabletop dispenser offering 7 brands of packaged smokes. Two years earlier, William Rowe, a clerk with the Los Angeles Police Department, devised and patented the first model engineered from a confiscated moonshine still and a cigar box. To make a purchase, 15 cents was inserted into the coin slots and a knob was pulled to release the desired pack into a tray below.
Rowe Manufacturing Co. was the major producer of cigarette vending machines and later offered wall-mounted models. Most models were designed to be eye-catching, with either a glass front to display the cigarette packs or a mirror, which was handy for ladies to apply lipstick or gentlemen to adjust their tie or hat. Some models had an additional knob and coin slot to purchase matches.
Following World War II, vending machines became larger to accommodate more brands and thus free-standing. While early models had merely appeared as ornate boxes, post-war styles were as rounded and sleek as the automobiles of the same period. Other companies also offered cigarette vending machines, such as this National Manufacturing Co. model made in St. Louis, MO. Offering nine brands, the machine accepted only nickels and quarters for a 30 cent pack.
Concerned with the accessibility of cigarettes to minors, the Federal Drug Administration ruled on June 22, 2010 regarding the placement of cigarette vending machines. Today, only businesses that exclude anyone younger than 18 may own or operate such.