In 1897, Pluto Lamps were installed at several points in London. These devices were not only engaged in street lighting, but also worked as vending machines, offering hot coffee, tea and coca.
|Inauguration of the Pluto Hot Water lamp, Exmouth Street, London, 1899. (Photo courtesy of British History Online)|
According to ianVisits, these “Pluto Lamps” were developed by a company founded in 1896 by Mr. H M Robinson variously known as either the “Hot Water Supply Syndicate” or the “Refreshment Lamp Syndicate” and they installed a number of these vending machines around the city before seemingly vanishing with barely a memory of their existence.
That lamp is described as being filled with Welshbach mantles on a Denayrouze burner and able to draw of quarts of water in quick succession. From other slots could be obtained hot coffee, coca and fluid beef via enamel vessels secured to the gas lamp by a chain.
What was also described as “another great boon” was the availability of cigarettes at four to the penny and even postcards were offered.
The Pluto Lamps must have been modestly successful as the following year, the Morning Post of 8th Feb 1899 noting that a Pluto Lamp was to be installed on a plot of land in Rosebery Avenue which had been recently sold to the Clerkenwell Vestry.
In addition to dispensing hot drinks, and obviously providing a valuable service in providing illumination to the dark streets – the Clerkenwell model also included one of Steljes ABC Telegraph Recorders which was connected to Scotland Yard for the police to use.
However, it was apparently not a success and was removed by October in the same year. It is possible that part of the reason was that locals found they could supplement half-penny coins with small round pieces of tin. Opened in February, by April over 1,000 pieces of tin had been found inside the vending machine, according a report into the arrest of one such thief in the Daily Mail of April 6th 1899.
The “urchin” was bound over for six months. Substituting coins for base metals has been a problem for street vending machines ever since.