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The Automat Is Born

It was a new kind of restaurant - automated, with chrome-and-glass coin-operated machines dispensing low-cost food to the masses. On June 12, 1902, Joseph Horn and German-born Frank Hardart opened their first Automat at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia.

The waiterless Horn & Hardart outlets spread to Manhattan in 1912 and eventually became the world's largest restaurant chain and first major fast-food provider. At its peak, it served 800,000 people a day and sold 90 million cups of coffee a year.

The automat concept faded as modern fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's began luring more customers. The last of the original Horn & Hardart restaurants, on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, closed in 1990. A 35-foot piece of the 1902 original is on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.