National Sales Machine Company was founded in 1926 by B. E. Fry, a St. Louis businessman, who invented a fail-safe vending machine that would accept only coins. By the 1930s, National was well established manufacturing a variety of merchandisers, but the company went under in 1932 due to the Great Depression. Soon thereafter, Fry’s son, Ben W. Fry, reopened the company as National Venders, Inc.
In 1934, Albert Diederich joined National Venders as vice president and general manager. Previously a sales executive with Chevrolet, he was credited with organizing a direct sales team, a field-based technical service support team and establishing an internal financing department to loan customers capital to purchase new vending machines. These insightful and innovative organizational and business developments remain viable today.
After Fry’s death at the age of 49, Diederich was appointed president of National Vendors and the transition from privately owned business to a new corporate ownership began. After WWII, goods sold through vending machines grew $600M to $3.2B. The range of products became more diverse with pastries, hot foods, sandwiches, candy and cigarettes – all using the same machine platform.
National Vendors, Inc. was sold to Universal Match Corporation (later known as UMC Industries, Inc.) in 1956. Universal Match viewed cigarette vending machines as a pipeline for match booklet distribution and the installed base delivered a book of Universal matches with each pack of cigarettes sold.
In the 1960s, National Vendors was the first to leverage glass front merchandising to dispense large package sizes and a central payment station. New products included cold cup drink, hot drink and milk machines. In the 1970s, the Grand Gourmet was introduced as the premier fresh food merchandiser, with conveyer shelving, an elevator and auto opening door.
In 1985, National Vendors was acquired by Crane Co. with other businesses that complimented Crane’s portfolio. Following the acquisition, significant investments were made in new product development including the highly-successful Shoppertron food machine, SnackCenter, Hot Drink Center and Cold Drink Center. Growth continued through the 1990s driven by the big bottlers and other major initiatives.
In the 2000s, Crane made a series of acquisitions including Streamware in 2000, Automatic Products in 2006 and Dixie Narco in 2007.
Founded in 1949, Automatic Products was a family-owned company that specialized in the manufacture of cigarette vending machines. The company quickly established itself as a leader in vending, and by the 1960s, the company built an innovative electro-mechanical, closed-front Candyshop®, offering 10 selections that could each be purchased with one coin.
AP remained an industry leader in candy and snack dispensing, first competing against manual drop shelf machines, then retaining leadership with new technological advances and more selectivity. Their Pastryshop® and Snackshop® machines offered more selectivity and freshness with a "first in, first out" dispensing system. In the early ‘eighties, AP introduced the first fully electronic glass front merchandisers. The visual appeal and increased selectivity inspired a dramatic impulse sales increase.
In 1981, AP acquired Refreshment Machinery Industries in Warminster, Penn., and their premium-quality hot beverage merchandisers.
AP started to export in earnest in 1981, and in 1992 an international office was established in the United Kingdom. A distributorship was opened in the UK in 1995, and global sales represented a fast-growing segment of AP’s business, with over 20 distributors outside the U.S. in more than 40 countries worldwide.
In 1984, AP became the first U.S. company to offer a coffee vending machine system that actually ground and brewed whole beans for every cup. The 8050 Hot Beverage Merchandiser offered not only an improved coffee aroma and flavor, but also the display and aroma of fresh beans and the sound of beans being ground.
To capitalize on consumers’ increasing desire for nationally-branded products in vending, AP formed strategic partnerships with some of the biggest candy and snack names in the industry. Display merchandising soon appeared on vending machines for brands like Nestlés®, M&M®/Mars®, Frito-Lay®, Kraft®/General Foods® and Hershey’s®.
The A LA CARTE® food system, introduced in 1997, met the need for increased selectivity and merchandising in food/ frozen vending. The glassfront design of the A LA CARTE provided increased product visibility. Frozen and refrigerated brand name products now had the visual appeal to attract customers at first glance.
The Café Diem®, introduced in 1999, revolutionized the hot beverage vend category, dispensing up to 15 freshly-brewed offerings, including latte, cappuccino, and other gourmet blended drinks. The dramatic back-lit graphics, contoured shape and merchandising appeal make this electronic café a profit-generating powerhouse for the vend operator.
AP was acquired by Crane Co. in September 2006.
In 1957, a company called Dixie Foundry, that manufactured cooking utensils and stoves in Cleveland, Tenn., acquired Victor Products, a company that made refrigerated vending equipment in Ranson, W.V. In 1958, Dixie Foundry acquired Magic Chef which had been a St. Louis manufacturer of gas ranges. In 1960, company officials decided to capitalize on the consumer name recognition of “Magic Chef” and reasserted its leadership in gas and electric ranges.
In 1967, the Victor name was dropped, and the vending business was renamed Dixie-Narco, after Dixie Foundry and the Narco Sales Group which helped sell the equipment. In 1986, Maytag Corporation acquired Magic Chef and all of its companies, including Dixie-Narco.
In 1989, Dixie-Narco moved production of vending machines from Ranson to an Admiral freezer factory in Williston, S.C. For the hectic nine months to follow, the factory was emptied, a 110,000 square foot addition was built, and new equipment was installed.
In 1997, Dixie-Narco purchased the assets of ECC Vending (Glass Front Vendor). ECC Vending, a defense contractor based in Orlando, Fla., got its start in the vending industry in 1993 with a frozen food machine for Haagen-Dazs. Later, with a 5,000-unit, $15MM machine order from Snapple it had defined a new cold beverage category.
Dixie-Narco was acquired by Crane Co. in November 2007.
Crane reused the Glasco trade name to open sales to distribution in 1994. In 1997, Crane acquired Polyvend who had previously acquired Lektro-Vend – a maker of refrigerated food machines. As a result, the Glasco product line was renamed GPL for Glasco, Polyvend, Lektro-Vend.
Since 1990, Streamware has applied leading-edge technology to help vending companies of all sizes and operational styles become more efficient, productive, competitive, and profitable. Since being acquired by Crane in 2000, Streamware has been the technology heart of Crane Merchandising Systems, combining the strength and stability of our corporate owner with the innovation and flexibility of a technology growth company.
Crane acquired Stentorfield in 1999 giving Crane equipment production capability in Europe for the first time. This remains the Crane Merchandising Systems UK-based operation, tasked with the manufacture of the current line of hot beverage machines.
As a result of these acquisitions, Crane consolidated their plants into one in 2009 located at Williston, S.C. Additionally, the company set out on a journey of innovation to establish themselves as the leading global manufacturer of vending machines, cashless systems, software and wireless communications.