Prior to the 1920s, marketers of vending machines and the products they vended were one and the same. The industry bifurcated into manufacturers of consumables and vending machine manufacturers/operators with the introduction of machines that sold multiple kinds of products—packaged candy and lighter fluid in the same machine, or several types of candy. About the same time three types of cigarette machines were introduced.
In the decade after World War II many small companies entered the industry with many design improvements. Coin mechanisms in particular became more sophisticated. In the late 1950s and early 1960s machines with electromechanical units began to appear.
The 1960s is regarded by many as the golden age of the vending machine industry. Vending machines were a staple of the American workplace, and the vending industry benefited from a booming industrial sector. During this period prices were relatively stable, and most products could be purchased with a single coin.
The economic climate of the following decade was less hospitable. The inflation of the 1970s made vending machines inconvenient, and there was also a shrinking in the manufacturing labor force where a large proportion of vending machine consumers were found. However, the product mix did change during this period, as bagged snacks began to grow in popularity at the expense of candy. The helical-feed glass-front candy/snack machine, which subsequently became the industry standard, also was introduced in the 1970s.
The spread of microprocessors has since transformed the design and function of vending machines. Microprocessors made it much easier to design machines that offered multiple prices and an ever-widening product selection, expanding to include a wide variety of snacks, frozen foods, microwavable food, diet and low-fat foods, and healthy foods such as yogurt.