The American Weigh - The Christopher K. Steele Collection
Christopher Steele with his Collection tr>


AMERICAN PENNY SCALES

100 Years of Ingenuity and Design

BILLIONS of PENNIES
and
THE BIRTH OF COIN-OP


Many Americans are familiar with vintage jukeboxes, gumball, candy and pop machines. Few are aware that in 1885, "nickel-in-the-slot" weighing machines preceded them and were the first coin-operated concept of significance to teach Americans how to feed coins into machines. These "coin-in-the-slot" scales offered the public their first opportunity to know their weight without visiting a doctor's office or standing on a commercial scale. Within a few short years, penny-in-the-slot scales made their debut. Affordable private bathroom scales were half a century into the future.


Christopher K. Steele, internationally known American penny scale collector, Dr. Ruth K. Meyer, former director of the Taft Museum and Faith Hart, editor, are in the final stages of writing the first comprehensive history of the American penny scale. The book will be rich with colorful images. Seventy-one machines, dating from 1891 to 1991, with their patinas intact, will be highlighted in all their glorious colors. Ephemera from the Steele Collection archive will add fun and depth to this enthralling story of American ingenuity and industrial design.


The storyline includes a wide range of topics for those who wish to explore American community life of the late 19th and 20th centuries through the phenomena of public, coin-operated weighing machines. The narrative introduces the inventors, investors, designers, producers and promoters, of a new business that evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Much of this history is Chicago's, the coin-op capital of the world.


The coin-controlled weighing machine launched an industry and made the ambitious entrepreneurs wealthy. Notable fat cats of the Gilded Age bankrolled the emerging enterprise. New York City was where it all started. The rags-to-riches profiles of many of the clever innovators are fascinating.

These coin-operated agents of service, without goods to dispense, set the foundation for factories and product lines to expand. The coin-op experiment proved to be sound and opened the door for merchandise dispensers to follow. One-hundred and thirty-five years later the automatic vending sensation thrives a thousand-fold.


Drop Coin Here


Right from the start, crazy enticements were added to scales to coax coins from the pockets of the entertainment hungry public. Electric shock, music, tickets, strength and lung testers captivated those longing to be amused while ascertaining their weight.


These early visionaries bit off more than they could chew. The first machines proved to be too difficult to maintain. A few years later, this budding industry rolled out less complicated mechanisms that charged only a penny.


LA Department of Weights and Measures


Over the next three decades, the public weighing companies continued to experiment with enticements to attract more coins to their slots. The challenges of accuracy and dependability proved to be more important. Once conquered, the more complicated automatons could make their return. Guess your weight, horoscopes and ticket dispensing systems could be trusted and added to these crafty penny eaters.


Ephemera from The Steele Collection, will add amusement to this captivating tale.


Marquee Kirk

Marquee

Horiscope Stars Say

Red Dress on Scale

Blue Scale

Charlie Chaplin - Modern Times


Hollywood honored penny scales. A variety of automatic weighing machines were used on film sets. Thousands of ticket-printing scales from coast to coast served Hollywood in two ways. They were ideal for props and secondly for promotion. The studios could place portraits of their motion picture stars on the vest pocket cards dispensed by the weighing machines.The ticket-scale's popularity cannot be overstated. At their peak, the largest operator of public weighing machines in the world, Peerless Weighing Machine Company of Detroit, printed movie star weight tickets by the boxcar load.


Movie star weight tickets


Initially, the one by two-inch portraits were printed in black and white. Color portraits followed.


Movie star weight tickets


On the reverse side of the tickets, fortunes written by well paid psychologists, were printed next to a blank space where the weight and date was stamped. This private weighing method took the nation by storm and provided a printed record. It is no wonder collecting pictures of movie stars became so fashionable.


Fortunes printed on the backs of tickets

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in Speedy, 1928

Five Art Deco Scales


Modern design was essential to the success of coin-driven scales. Pioneers in the emerging field of industrial design, Joseph Sinel, Everett Eckland, and Harold Van Doren created brilliant models for their person weighers. They were influenced by world events including the opening of King Tut's Tomb in 1923, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs held in Paris in 1925, and the architecture of skyscrapers.


ITS Mills Toledo

The Talking Scale


Patented in 1903-06, this scale employed a sound recording and was the first to offer a nickel-drop gambling device with a weighing machine. One of a kind, it audibly broadcast the weight for all within earshot using a vertically mounted phonograph record. Each groove on the rotating disc had a number recorded on it. A needle mechanically connected to the platform of the scale would find the right groove and distinctly make the announcement. Remarkably, this preceded the compact disc by five decades. Experiencing this new technology cost five cents, equivalent to the cost of two loaves of bread.


Big profits in every crowd

The Featuristic Scale


Once corner landmarks, penny scales stood watch like sentries across the American landscape. The public relied on these mechanical wonders to monitor their health and weight for half a century. In their prime, over one billion pennies were dropped annually into these ingenious attractions. Pitched as trade stimulators and known as silent salesmen, these "robots of trade" evoke nostalgia for simpler, healthier times.


Grace and Broadway, Chicago


The designers and manufacturers of these cultural artifacts required more than innovative engineering. They were masters of many materials that would be cost prohibitive today. Cast iron, hardwood, cast aluminum, porcelain enamel, etched glass, mirrors, and chrome, brass and nickel plate were used to manufacture coin-actuated weighing machines.

In 1936, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a report that stated, "Penny Weighing Scales are the principle means of over 130 million people keeping in touch with their weight and health." Over one billion pennies were dropped into personal weighing scales annually. That $10 million, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to over $182 million in 2020.

Public weighing machines weave their way through the history of automatic vending with pay-to-weigh scales still being manufactured in the United States today. Those credited with the ingenious mechanisms and dynamic designs brought to light in this book stand tribute to America's first coin-operated device to teach the masses to feed coins into machines.


Roy Rogers



Thank you for visiting americanpennyscales.com and theamericanweigh.com.

To learn more, check out the tabs above.


Contact: americanpennyscales@gmail.com


Caille Moderne Base