Museum of Ancient Inventions: Coin-Operated Holy Water Dispensing Machine

Designed by the Greek inventor Heron, this coin-operated holy water dispenser was used in Egyptian temples to dispense water for ritual washings.

Worshipers would place a coin into the machine and receive holy water to bathe themselves with before entering the temple. At the end of the day, the slot machine would be emptied of its coins and refilled with holy water for the next day’s worshipers. Dropping a coin into the slot machine initiates a chain reaction: the weight of the coin depresses a metal pan, which in turn results in the opening of a valve, which in turn allows the water to flow out for the worshiper.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Kristy Beauchesne ’97, Niki Bennett ’00, and Vanessa King ’99

This reconstruction of Heron’s slot machine is made of clay, metal, Plexiglas and a bit of silicone for sealing purposes. The base and the top are of clay, their designs taken from the original but slightly modified to accommodate the weakness of unfired clay. The metal coins are recreations of the Egyptian five-drachma bronze coin that would have been used during the heyday of the holy water slot machine. The middle of the slot machine, which held the mechanism that released holy water, was made of Plexiglas and metal. The pan was pounded into the appropriate shape with a hammer and the remaining pieces were cut from metal and soldered together. The entire apparatus was then placed in a Plexiglas container so its inner workings would be visible.

Science Topics
Inventions & Scientists
Engineering Topics
Social Studies Topics
Ancient History
K-6, Middle School, High School
Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

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