Thursday, April 5, 2012

Automats to Fast Food Restaurants

Today, some people hop out of bed in the morning and head to Starbucks for their iced grande caramel latte with skim milk and sugar free syrup, and a blueberry muffin. They then head off to work and right around noon, head down to the closest McDonald’s where they will quick grab a Big Mac to bring to their desk to eat while doing work. Lastly, on the way home from work, they will stop at the Chick-Fil-A, where that chicken strip salad is calling their name.

This meal plan might not sound like the healthiest option for a days worth of food, but it probably does not sound all that uncommon. Before 1902 the idea of fast food, however, was nonexistent in the United States. It took the joint collaboration and creativity of Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart to launch the fast food movement that led to an industry of hundreds of thousands of to-go options like we see today.

Uzzi and Spiroajs (Collaboration and Creativity, 448) wrote that “creativity is not only, as myth tells, the brash work of loners, but also the consequence of a social system of actors that amplify or stifle one another’s creativity.”  Horn and Hardart’s collaboration definitely amplified each other’s creativity.

Horn, from Philadelphia, and Hardart, born in Germany and raised in New Orleans, looked to change the restaurant industry. Instead of the customary sit-down restaurants, the pair opened the first Automat that the United States had ever seen on June 12, 1902. People could order their food through a machine with only nickels. Horn and Hardart marketed the automat as take-out food that rivaled and could replace home-cooked meals.

Much like we saw Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak discuss Apple innovations or Sigmund Freud bounce ideas off of his mentors, Horn and Hardart constantly worked together to incorporate these new automats in their Philadelphia restaurant and later in New York City.

We established in one of our earliest readings this semester that creative people interact with their environments. Horn and Hardart listened to the demands for quick, delicious food. They then came up with a creative idea that could even flourish during the Depression era.  They helped solve the problem of getting food on the table amidst a busy day, something people still complain about today.

Horn and Hardart worked within the restaurant domain, but they largely reinvented this domain. Restaurants could now include take-out food. The field primarily had positive reactions. Many restaurant innovators took the pair’s automat idea one step farther. The opening of A&W fast food restaurant in 1916 and White Castle in 1921 used many of Horn and Hardart’s ideas.

Bamn! A failed attempt to revive the traditional automats in New York City
The automats suffered a large decline with the presence of fast-food restaurants and drive-thru windows. The last automat, one of 40 in New York City, closed in 1991. Horn and Hardart’s last restaurant endeavor, the Horn and Hardart Coffee Co., closed in 2005. Without the pair’s creativity, fast-food restaurants may never have developed quite like the powerhouses they are today. 

1 comment:

  1. I find it extremely interesting that the automat predated the fast food restaurant as it would seem that the automat is the answer to making fast food, well, faster, and should be the "next big thing." Today if you go to Macy's on State Street (or Marshall Field's as it will forever be known to most native Chicagoans), you can swipe your credit card and buy an iPod or other consumer electronics from a fully automated machine. The store has always been known for being a department store where one could find almost anything they wanted, but one has to wonder about the "convenience" of buying something that could be a couple hundred dollars in the same way that we would buy a $1.25 bottle of Coke. Is this creative, or is it just a lazy attempt to cut labor costs in stores? What as a human race are we losing by further finding ways to limit our interactions in the name of "progress?"


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