What is a Gumball Machine?

Mary McMahon

A gumball machine is a type of vending machine which dispenses gumballs, small balls of gum covered in brightly colored candy coatings. Gumball machines are among the most ubiquitous of vending machines, and they can be found all over the world, sometimes as standalone vending machines and sometimes in company with an array of vending machine choices. For vending machine operators, gumball machines can be used to turn a tidy profit, because the per-unit cost of gumballs is usually very low, and consumers can be enticed to pay many times that price.

Two young boys
Two young boys

Many people are familiar with the shape of the classic gumball machine, which includes a transparent globe mounted on a thick metal base attached to a pole. Traditional gumball machines had globes made of glass, while most modern machines use plastic instead, since it can withstand hard use. Some gumball machine manufacturers get creative with their machines, designing small obstacle courses for the gumballs to navigate on their way out to the consumer's hand.

To operate a gumball machine, a consumer inserts a coin and turns a knob, which allows a gumball or a gumball assortment to drop out. The number of gumballs dispensed is controlled by the company which owns the machine, which also periodically refills it with gumballs and collects the money which is stored in the base. Since the dispenser is entirely random, consumers never know what color of gumball they will get, and some businesses make this into a game, by seeding a gumball machine with a small number of unusually colored gumballs which can be redeemed for prizes.

The first gumball machine was released in 1907, approximately a year after gumballs were developed, and it proved to be a popular hit. Numerous other candy and gum dispensing machines had been made since the late 1800s, along with vending machines for postcards and small toys. The basic concept of small vending machines dispensing an assortment of relatively inexpensive items lives on in places like airports, variety stores, candy shops, and so forth, and some offices also keep a gumball machine around for the novelty.

The price of a gumball machine varies. Some companies make low cost novelty versions for people who think it would be fun to have one around the house or office. Higher end versions are built to resist vandalism and theft, and they tend to be more expensive since they are made with more solid materials.

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