Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, August 30, 1998, pg. 5

Albion once had a variety of neighborhood and "diner" restaurants in the days before fast food eating. Some of our readers might remember coin-operated machines that used to sit on the counters and tables to amuse and entertain the customer while they waited for their food. Sometimes for a long time.

Here in Albion in the late 1940s in certain restaurants such as the College Eat Shop, there were placed the Wise Owl Quizzette coin-operated napkin machines. These were manufactured here in Michigan by the Continental Service & Equipment Company of Detroit, a division of the Mercury Steel Corporation on Holbrook Avenue. The "Quizzette" machine was made of cold rolled steel, and finished in a hammered gray color with chrome trim. It measured 10 inches high and 5 inches wide.

The purpose of the "Quizzette" was not the napkins, which were placed on the sides for free, but rather the coin-operated mechanism in the center. A person would place a penny in the solo, pull the lever down and out would pop a small card with an educational quiz question. This, by the way, was in the days before "Jeopardy." Each machine held 500 quizzes, and held approximately $5.00 in "wheat" pennies.

In order to receive the answer, you had to put in another penny for the next card, which had the answer, and the next question. Imagine a boy taking a girl out for a soda and trying to impress her with his knowledge via these machines. Cards included such a question as: "Q. How many stares are there?" "A: 48." The back side of the card had some public service message such as "Don’t Drink and Drive" or "Courtesy Prevents Accidents."

As time went on, some clever college students tried to defeat the machine by using their restaurant knife to try and pull out a card for free. No one however tried using dimes instead of pennies, which it also could take.

Because they were considered an educational device that did not incorporate amusement or gaming features, the U.S. Treasury Department declared in 1948 that the machines were exempt from the special tax that existed at the time.

How many Albion residents remember the Wise Owl Quizzette napkin machines here in town? From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of one of those machines, a sample card, and a promotional poster. on this card we find the answer to the previous card was "Irvin S. Cobb." The new question is, "What is meant by ‘Catholic Taste?’" The answer? You’ll have to put in another penny for that.

Wise Owl Quizzette Vending Machine and Napkin Holder

Wise Owl Quizzette Napkin

Wise Owl Quizzette Poster


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