NYPL Exhibitions

Automat Coffee

In an age of lackluster American coffee, the brew served at the Automat was legendary. H&H roasted its own beans, using a special blend of six different kinds plus a little chicory, and each restaurant made fresh coffee all day, never allowing it to sit for more than an hour. For decades it cost only 5 cents, and New Yorkers treasured their delicious bargain.

A nickel, however, could not keep up with rising costs. In 1950 the company lost 2 million dollars on its New York coffee sales, even though it had been trying to save money for several years by watering the brew and mixing milk into the cream. If the company could have charged 7 or 8 cents per cup, the costs would have been covered, but the coin slots took only nickels and quarters. On November 29, 1950, the price jumped to 10 cents, and the public was furious. Coffee sales plunged from 70 to 45 million cups per year. Ten cents was a reasonable price for coffee in 1950, but at the Automat it represented a slap in the face to longtime customers, and many never returned.