|Empty Press Register newspaper vending boxes taken off the streets in 2012. Fred Jones posted this Mike Brantley photo on the Facebook page for former Press Register employees.|
Coin-operated newspaper vending machines were once a common sight in Mobile and every other American city. They lined railroad passenger platforms, airport concourses, stood outside hotels and restaurants and could be found on almost every busy street corner.
Now they are a rarity.
Before George T. Hemmeter invented the newspaper vending machine in 1947, distribution of The Mobile Register included use of the honor box shown here.
Note, however, the small key lock at the bottom right for the coin box. Trust apparently went only so far. (Photo from the Erik Overbey Collection in the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama.)
Use of the coin-operated racks sought to capture readers who didn’t subscribe, and to solve the problem of distributing papers to the suburbs that grew rapidly after World War II. Their use began slowly and then surged in the early 1970s.
When USA Today began publishing in 1982 and introduced widespread use of its distinctive TV-looking news boxes across the country, other newspapers responded by increasing their use of boxes, too.
Few people remember now, but publishers often turned the placement of their newspaper vending machines into a free speech issue. Mobile was among the cities that tried to regulate the placement of the news boxes. Like most newspapers, The Mobile Press Register asserted that such regulations infringed on its free press rights under the First Amendment.
As newspaper prices rose in the late 1900s, the vending machines began to lose favor with the public and publishers alike. The machines were mechanical and couldn't accept dollar bills, only coins. The only choice customers had was to carry a pocket full of quarters or dollar coins. At the same time, Sunday editions had become so bulky that only a limited number of copies could be placed in the boxes.
Also as people switched to getting their news, entertainment and other information online, the boxes became less and less necessary. Newspapers began pulling their vending machines from the streets and they have all but disappeared now.