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Horn and Hardart’s Automat

During the depression and the post war years, many New Yorkers got their first taste of fast food and a "nickel cup of coffee" from coin-operated glass machines at Horn and Hardart’s Automat.

The first Automat in New York opened in Times Square on July 2, 1912.Initially the Automat sold only buns, beans, fish cakes and coffee, but as time went by it began serving lunch and dinner entrees, including Salisbury steak with fluffy mashed potatoes and beef stew. It developed into a self-service chain of restaurants that flourished in this city for nearly a century.

Marking the centennial of Horn and Hardart’s Automat, the Museum of the City of New York has created a special exhibition featuring photographs and artifacts including original furniture, china, and vending machine panels.

"Horn and Hardart’s Automat is an important part of the history of this city," said Deborah Walters, deputy director for collections and exhibitions at the museum. "It introduced a form of waiterless dining that was very popular in the 20th century."

During 1940s and 1950s, there were over 50 Horn and Hardart’s restaurants in the city, serving about 350,000 customers a day. The chain’s popularity declined when other fast food restaurants opened in 1970s. The last restaurant closed in April of 1991.

On November 23, the museum will offer a gallery talk with the exhibition’s curators Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart, who will examine the Automat’s impact on American eating habits.

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