During the Great Depression, many folks felt lucky to have ten cents for lunch. At the automat they could buy a chicken pie or a dish of baked beans. If they didn't have a nickel, they might do what Marlo Thomas did in an episode of her TV show "That Girl," -- put free ketchup and saltine crackers into a cup of free hot water and call it tomato soup. Ketchup soup was very popular during the Depression. Does this mean automats were hang-outs for bums? Not at all. Taxi drivers ate there, but so did Robert DeNiro while making the movie "Taxi Driver." Rich and poor were equal in the automat -- a great equalizer during the Depression. How did famous people feel about automats?
Neil Simon said, "To have your own stack of nickels placed in your tiny hands and be able to choose your own food, displayed like museum pieces; to make quick and final decisions at age eight, was a lesson in finance that two years at Wharton could not buy today." Tony Curtis adds, "I used to shine shoes when I was 14, and when I was a little ahead, I'd stop at Horn & Hardart." Dick Clark claims he lived at the automat when he only had $2/day to eat on. "The food was delicious, and it was wonderful," recalled Woody Allen. For many, going to the automat became a family "tradition," not just a meal. If you have five free minutes, here's a video that explains how Horn & Hardart automats gave birth to fast food, while giving dignity to the poorest of the poor. youtube.com/watch?v=