Mills Soda Machines

In their role as the world's largest manufacturer of coin-operated machines, the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, Illinois, played a significant part in the evolution of Coke machines. While the other manufacturers were busy building chest coolers, Mills signed an agreement with Coca-Cola to produce a standing dry vendor for bottles around 1935.  Their first machine, the Model 47, was the first stand-up dry automatic cooler for Coca-Cola. This machine dispensed bottles with no lever manipulation, knob turning or handle pulling whatever. Like the other products they built, the Mills coolers were an engineering achievement incorporating design features of unparalleled excellence. The frames were handcrafted of walnut shrouded in twenty-two gauge sheet metal. Their compressors were designed to do the stiffest job of commercial refrigeration, possessing the qualities of excessive strength , accuracy of performance and interchangeability of parts. Rather than have another company manufacture compressors and risk inferior quality, they spent a half million dollars to tool their own plant and built the best, regardless of cost.

The Model 47 and subsequent improved models, 47A, 47B and 47N, all used a dispensing mechanism consisting of a motorized conveyor having two endless chains on which were hung the bottle cradles. The Model 47 actually has a bottle capacity of 104 bottles in conveyor and 22 bottles in pre-cool. The Model 98 is the same as the 47 except for a sub or pre-cooling base which accommodates 106 bottles in reserve. Both of these models are characterized by their "cathedral" crown which housed the compressor unit and their distinctive red and green Duco baked enamel finish. Production of these two models ran from 1936-1939.

The Model 98A is similar to the 98 with one notable improvement. The Model 98 used a dual expansion refrigeration system which involved freezing one coil in a 20 pound block of ice to aid the other coil from the condenser. This system was replaced by the now conventional single coil system on the 98A. Production of this model ran from 1939-1943.

The Model 47A, 1938-1941, was smaller than its predecessor holding only 60 bottles in conveyor with the same 42 bottle pre-cool capacity. The compressor was moved from the top of the machine to the bottom. The Model 47B picked up where the 47A ended. Because it is the same size as the 47A, but also has all the design improvements of that time, it is the most collectible of the Model 47 series.

Probably the most sought after and desirable of all the pre-war Mills vendors is the Model 45. Made for only two years, 1941-1942, the Model 45 is commonly called the "baby Mills" It has a small capacity of only 26 bottles with 26 more in pre-cool. Unlike the earlier conveyor style mechanisms, the 45 uses two gravity feed rotating drums to dispense the bottles. The compressor unit is located in the bottom of the machine and easily serviced by removal of the lower front panel. The curved front door to the machine is often found dented, due in part to the coin mechanism used.

The end of WW II saw the beginning of a new era for Mills Coke machines. First, the company changed their name to Mills Industries, dropping the Novelty part. The second change was a switch to the more simplistic all red color scheme being used by the other manufacturers on their machines. Two models were built by the company from 1946-1953, The Mills Model 120 was certainly one of the largest Coke machines of its day. It stood 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 620 pounds. The Model 65, on the other hand, was a mere 67 inches high. Unlike the pre-war machines, the model numbers of these two indicate the vending capacity. Early 120 models have a distinctive Coke bottle displayed through plexiglass in the front cabinet door. Some very early 120 models also incorporated an unusual circular glass window on the outside cabinet door.  This feature was a design concept borrowed from the slot machine division but quickly dropped from production presumably due to vandalism.

For unmatched excellence in design and workmanship, the Mills machines are especially noteworty from a historical standpoint, they are a pioneering achievement in automatic vending, years before the industry came to realize its potential.

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Vintage Soda Collectables and Machines
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Copyright © March 12,1997

Last updated on November 19, 2000