New York, NY, USA

Closed 1991

The Disappointed Tourist: Automat, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The first automat in the U.S. was opened in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart in 1902. They used coin-operated vending machines produced by Max Sielaff’s factory in Berlin, where the concept of using vending machines to deliver food had originated in 1895 with the Quisiana restaurant. Horn & Hardart expanded into the New York market in 1912 and the restaurants became an iconic part of the urban fabric; at the height of their popularity there were 40 Automat restaurants in New York City alone. The Automats fell out of popularity in the 1970s in part due to competition from the fast food industry and partly because rising inflation made the use of coins inconvenient. The last Automat in New York closed in 1991. The painting is based on an old postcard.

I have vivid memories of going for lunch to Horn & Hardart’s in NYC during the 1960’s. The food was on view in large chrome display cases, with a small glass box window for each item. Once your selection was made, you put the money in a slot, and could then open the door to get your food. I found this fascinating. Susan M.

The Automat was the main thing I wanted to see as a child on my first visit to NYC. They were meant to seem mechanical but really had a person behind the doors putting in a new slice of pie when you bought one. I used to watch for their hands darting in after my purchase. Jane D.

Also requested by David G.