Automat Dining Died Out in the 1990s in Bala Cynwyd. COVID Might Bring It Back to Philly

H and H automat dining
Automat postcard image via Old Images of Philadelphia, Facebook.

Automat dining thrived a century ago, when machines dispensing sandwiches, chocolate bars, and wine could be found all over the Philadelphia region and New York, writes Jane L. Levere for The Washington Post.

The concept was simple. A restaurant or a retail store had an automat “fronted by Carrara [marble] or milk glass on which hung four rectangular glass doors that would be operated by a knob,” wrote Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart in The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart’s Masterpiece. “All you had to do was make your selection, deposit a nickel, turn the knob, and the door sprang open and your sandwich or piece of pie awaited you.”

Horn & Hardart automats were ubiquitous in the two cities through the mid-20th century, but by 1991, all were gone.

The last Philadelphia-area automat in Bala Cynwyd closed the year before.

However, the arrival of COVID-19 has made the automats attractive once again, as shown by the two new automats that opened in New York during the pandemic. These offer contactless and speedy ways to purchase prepared food.

Read more about the rise and fall of automat dining in The Washington Post.


HORN & HARDART AUTOMAT – Life in America