A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 23, 2005
Automat (or, Automated Restaurant)
The "Automat" is a German invention from 1896, originally called the "automated restaurant."

Horn & Hardart opened the first American "Automat" in Philadelphia in 1902. It's widely reported that Horn & Hardart's July 7, 1912 Broadway opening was New York's first "Automat," but New York City had an "automat" also in 1902 (although not owned by Horn & Hardart).

"Automat" restaurants were popular in the 1930s during the Depression, but the last Horn & Hardart "Automat" was closed in New York in 1991.


(Oxford English Dictionary)
automat
A cafeteria in which food is obtained from compartments by the insertion of a coin or token. U.S.
1903 Sci. Amer. 18 July 49/2 [in photograph of restaurant] Automat.
1909 WEBSTER, Automat, a café or restaurant in which orders are automatically delivered to customers, who place coins or tokens in slots.
1919 F. HURST Humoresque 48 Waldorf! You've got a fine chance. You mean the Automat, and two spoons for the ice-cream.
1921 WODEHOUSE Jill the Reckless xiv. 208 The Automat?.. The food's quite good. You go and help yourself out of slot-machines, you know.
1951 Amer. Speech Oct. 166 Probably the 'Automat', a self-serving institution supplying food, gave special impetus to the extension of the suffix -mat.


An automat was a form of a cafeteria-style restaurant in which simple foods, usually coffee, sandwiches, and other fare such as macaroni and cheese, were served to the clientele by means of coin-operated vending machines. The diner inserted the required number of coins and then slid open a window to remove the meal, which was generally wrapped in waxed paper. The food preparers inserted the product into the back of the machines, which also functioned as a wall between the kitchen and the lobby, which typically had a tile floor.

The dishes were crockery; cups had saucers. The knives, forks, and spoons were solid metal. The glasses were glass. The tables and chairs were solid, comfortable, well spaced. Nothing phoney!

The automat was developed in the early 1900s, and the first American automat opened in 1902. The automat was brought to New York City in 1912 and gradually became a fixture of popular culture. The most prominent operator of this format was Horn & Hardart. In the United States, this format apparently never spread beyond major northern industrial cities and hence a "trip to the automat" became a virtual necessity for visits "up North" by travellers from southern and rural areas.

The format was threatened by postwar suburban flight and the rise of fast food establishments in the 1950s; by the 1970s their remaining appeal was strictly nostalgic. The last U.S. automat closed in 1991.

Wikipedia: Horn & Hardart
Horn & Hardart is a company that came to prominence as the proprietors of the first automat in New York City.

Joseph Horn and Paul Hardart had already opened an automat in Philadelphia, but their "Automat" at Broadway and 13th Street, in New York City, a cafeteria with its prepared foods behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots, created a sensation when it opened on July 7, 1912.

The automats were particularly popular during the Depression era, and their Macaroni and Cheese, Baked Beans, and Creamed Spinach were staple offerings.

The company also popularized the notion of "take-out" food, with their slogan "Less work for Mother".

The chain remained popular through the 1950s. It declined with the rise of the Fast food restaurants; the last Automat closed in 1991.

6 December 1896, Boston (MA) Daily Globe, pg. SM40:
APOTHEOSIS OF SLOT MACHINE.
Takes Place of Waiter and Serves Meals
Piping Hot
The penny-in-the-slot machine has met with derision as well as abuse, but it seems to have attained its apotheosis in the present Berlin exhibition, where an automatic restaurant is in full swing.

25 December 1896, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 5:
Nickel-in-the-Slot Restaurant.
This mechanism has been utilized for the sale automatically of pretty nearly all sorts of confection and small toys, but a German inventor has demonstrated its adaptability to a higher order of usefulness, for he has installed an automatic restaurant in the present Berlin exposition on the penny-in-the-slot plan.

29 March 1897, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. 5:
[Scientific American:] There are several automatic restaurants in the German cities. A great variety of dishes is presented -- all kinds of beverages are offered as well as cold meats, sandwiches and pies, these various viands and liquors being presented upon dropping a coin in a slot.

12 January 1902, Boston (MA) Daily Globe, pg. 36:
London's Automatic Restaurant.

24 December 1902, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. 5:
The automatic restaurant, whereby putting the requisite number of nickels or dimes in the slot you can get a dinner, a highball, soda water -- in fact, everything in the eating or drinking line -- is the latest development in coin in the slot machines, and a restaurant to exploit the scheme has just been opened at 830 Broadway, near Twelfth street. One company has been organized to run the automatic restaurants for New York. This is only one of en already contracted for.

The parent company in Germany has just organized its American branch and proposes to build all machines in the United States.

Everything about the place is the embodiment of cleanliness. As there are no waiters there are no tips. There is an air of informality about it all that is most pleasing.

The automat is the invention of Herr Sielaff, a captain in the kaiser's own regiment.

9 January 1903, Long Beach (NJ) Record, pg. 12:
AN AUTOMATIC RESTAURANT.
New York Has an Electric Novelty in
Feeding Line
The electric restaurant is Broadway's latest. It came recently with a dozen more to follow speedily, and when it opened for business at noon it created such a diversion among Christmas shoppers as seriously to threaten the Christmas trade.

It is a waiterless restaurant, where every man turns on the electricity and gets what he wants, whether it be a course dinner, a highball, or an absinthe frappe.

The place is on Broadway, New York, and is called the Automat. It occupies an entire floor and is fitted up with an elaborate mechanical service, made in Germany, at a cost of $75,000. It is the first restaurant of the kind to be set up in New York and the second in this country, and the novelty caught Broadway at once.

18 July 1903, Scientific American, "The Automatic Restaurant," pg. 50:
To the American, who is now so accustomed to mechanical contrivances that he no longer is astonished by their performances, this automatic restaurant is but the logical development of the automatic vending machine. The wonder is that this idea is not of American, but of German, origin. Automatic restaurants have been a familiar sight in many of the more prominent European cities for the last nine years.

New York's restaurant, in principle, is very much the same as those of the German towns. It is fitted up much more elaborately, however. Its electric lights, its dazzling mirors, and it resplendent marble outshine everything on Broadway. The average cafe which to the country visitor seems to be illuminated with extravagant splendor is but a dismal place compared with it.

(Trademark)
Word Mark AUTOMAT
Goods and Services (EXPIRED) IC 042. US 100. G & S: RESTAURANT SERVICE. FIRST USE: 19020630. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19020630
Mark Drawing Code (5) WORDS, LETTERS, AND/OR NUMBERS IN STYLIZED FORM
Design Search Code
Serial Number 71569852
Filing Date December 3, 1948
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Registration Number 0552071
Registration Date December 11, 1951
Owner (REGISTRANT) HORN & HARDART BAKING CO. CORPORATION NEW JERSEY 208 SOUTH WARNOCK ST. PHILADELPHIA PENNSYLVANIA
Prior Registrations 0111233
Type of Mark SERVICE MARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Renewal 1ST RENEWAL 19711211
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD

(Trademark)
Word Mark HORN & HARDART RETAIL SHOPS "LESS WORK FOR MOTHER"
Goods and Services (EXPIRED) IC 029. US 046. G & S: COOKED MEATS-NAMELY, COOKED HAM, BEEF, BACON, TONGUE, PORK, AND CHICKEN; SMOKED MEATS-NAMELY, HAM, BACON, AND TONGUE; DESSERTS-NAMELY, PUDDINGS; COOKED FISH; UNCANNED SALADS-NAMELY, CHICKEN SALAD, POTATO SALAD, AND SALADS FORMED OF VARIOUS COMBINATIONS OF FRESH AND CANNED FRUITS AND VEGETABLES; AND COOKED VEGETABLES. FIRST USE: 19251208. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19251208
Mark Drawing Code (3) DESIGN PLUS WORDS, LETTERS, AND/OR NUMBERS
Design Search Code 02.03.01 - Busts of women; Heads of women; Women, head, portraiture, busts
Serial Number 71542126
Filing Date November 24, 1947
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Registration Number 0534551
Registration Date December 12, 1950
Owner (REGISTRANT) HORN & HARDART BAKING COMPANY CORPORATION NEW JERSEY 208 SOUTH WARNOCK STREET PHILADELPHIA PENNSYLVANIA
Assignment Recorded ASSIGNMENT RECORDED
Prior Registrations 0235886
Disclaimer NO CLAIM IS HEREIN MADE TO THE WORDS RETAIL SHOPS AND LESS WORK FOR MOTHER APART FROM THE MARK AS SHOWN.
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL-2(F)
Affidavit Text SECT 15.
Renewal 1ST RENEWAL 19701212
Other Data THE PICTURE OF THE WOMAN'S HEAD IS FANCIFUL.
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Bakeries/Food Stores • Wednesday, November 23, 2005 • Permalink