The Automat (a trademarked name) was a self-service restaurant where individual portions of food were displayed and dispensed from coin operated glass door compartments. You put in your nickles, and the compartment door would open. You could then sit and dine in the elaborate dining room. Behind the wall of glass doors a team of women kept the compartments filled with food that was prepared at a central commissary and delivered to the Automats daily.
Frank Hardart and Joe Horn open their first Automat on June 9, 1902 at 818 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The beginnings of modern fast food.
The first Horn & Hardart Automat in New York City opened in 1912 in Times Square.
By 1932 there were 46 Automats in Philadelphia and another 42 in New York City. In their heyday during the 1950s, they served 800,000 people a day. But consumer tastes change and business gradually declined. Beginning in the 1970s Horn & Hardart Automats were converted to Burger Kings. The last Philadelphia Automat closed on May 12, 1990 and the last New York City Automat closed on April 8, 1991.
An ornate 35 foot section of the original Philadelphia Automat was acquired by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.