Ford Gumball Machines

The industry was primarily made up of dodgy operators who would use low quality products. Even worse, the machines would routinely fail and not vend any gum at all. Losing a penny today is meaningless � losing a penny in the 20s would ruin a person’s week. Ford turned to his father, a Baptist minister, for advice. His father counseled him to make his own quality gum and superior equipment and to, “share your profits with God.”

Taking his father’s advice to heart, Ford Mason developed a program where local service organizations could generate money for their projects through the placement of Ford machines in their community. To meet that end, the company prepared a whole slew of material that was given to the “Gum Chairman” of these organizations. In this kit was everything you ever wanted to know about the placement of gumball machines and the sale of gumballs. “Salesmen” were instructed how to overcome objections, identify the type of stores which will yield the most action, and they were even given samples of gum so the retail establishment can see that they were vending a quality product.

This quality product came to be in 1934 when the enterprising Mason started manufacturing his own gum to supply his own machines (which were contract built by a California company). The Akron, New York plant was churning out hundreds of thousands of gumballs an hour. At the time, the name of his firm was Ford Vending Machine, Co.. Mason proudly changed the name to reflect his company’s new purpose: Ford Gum and Machine Co.

To continue with the community spirit concept, Ford developed relationships with local vending machine distributors who would own the machine, maintain the location, and send money to the service club on a regular basis. Throughout the life of the program the machines always looked the same. That all too familiar round tin base with glass globe where the product would be stored. There were some modifications made to the machines from their inception in the late teens and early 20s right up through their retirement in the 1980s.

The original base was red although many vintage machines found today have various color schemes, lending credence to the fact that distributors or the retailers themselves would repaint the machine to better fit a particular venue. A penny was inserted into the slot on the base, and the lever would slide to the left and a gumball would vend into a cup. The cup was eventually done away with being replaced by scooped chutes of varying shapes. Throughout the years Ford made several modifications of the chute. One attempt was a traditional lift up door. Another variation was a plastic cover placed over the chute so the gumball wouldn’t get away from the customer. The most common machine in the collectibles channel is the chrome machine with the open chute.

The company made several accessories. For locations that had little or no counter space, Ford provided a floor stand. These came in a single or a double machine model for high volume locations. For those high traffic venues, the company manufactured a machine with an extended base. It could hold more money (and larger coins in the later years) so the route managers did not have to come and empty the machines so often.

Some distributors complained of the ease in which slugs could be used in the machines. The company manufactured its very own slug rejecter, a rather out of place attachment that looked like the afterthought that is was. These slug rejecters are scarce, as are the padlocks and bar locks that were manufactured throughout the life of the program.

To increase the merchantability, Ford provided marquees which resided on top of the globe. It was an advertisement which let the customer know that their purchase helped the goodwill causes for a service organization or charity in their community.

By 1970, founder Ford Mason had pretty much accomplished everything he set out to do some half-century before. That year he sold out to Automatic Service Company. They carried the Ford flame through 1985 when Leaf Gum, Inc. purchased Ford. Then in 1996 Hershey Foods Corp. purchased Leaf. Hershey Foods must have had little interest in Leaf’s Ford division as they quickly sold it to former members of the Ford management team in June 1997! Another Leaf product, the Carousel brand of gum and home-use gumball machines (typically found in catalog and retail chains), was also acquired by the Ford managers. The companies now co-exist with along with Fordway/Astro. They’re still located in Akron, New York and announced in January 1998 that a sales and marketing office would open in Vernon Hills, Illinois. That same month, the company unveiled a new corporate logo.