Horn & Hardart Automats in Philadelphia

Horn & Hardart opened their first automat on June 9, 1902. The history of these restaurants and its impact on Philadelphia is beautifully captured in an article by Dr. Stephen Nepa in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. The following section is from that 2013 article:

Beloved by generations of diners and immortalized in art, song, cinema, and poetic verse, Automats, also known as “automatics” or “waiterless restaurants,” were popular manifestations of an early-twentieth century modernizing impulse. Influenced by Frederick W. Taylor’s studies of scientific management and the widespread use of the assembly line, the Automat removed the process of ordering food through a professional waitstaff and allowed customers a faster dining experience via coin-operated vending machines. Designed to streamline dining out while offering a broad choice of freshly prepared menu items, Automats were integral features of Greater Philadelphia’s restaurant industry from the early 1900s through the mid-1960s.

Automats first appeared in Germany and Scandinavia in the 1890s. The first Automat in the United States opened in 1902 near New York’s Union Square. However, it failed to gain mass appeal and closed three years later. The Philadelphia area’s first Automat is credited to Joseph Horn (1861-1941) and Frank Hardart (1850-1918), whose local baking company imported the technology from Quisiana, a Berlin-based manufacturer….

Philadelphian Horn and New Orleans transplant Hardart had operated luncheonettes and bakeries in Center City since partnering in 1888. For their first Automat, they chose a site at 818 Chestnut Street. It proved an immediate sensation. After it debuted June 9, 1902, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Horn and Hardart had solved the city’s “rapid transit luncheon problem” of feeding people on the go. Their official slogan, “less work for mother,” affirmed their goal for faster restaurant service.

818 Chestnut St. – Courtesy of Phillyhistory.org

In 1932, there were over 40 restaurants, of which fewer than 20 were automats, in the Greater Philadelphia area and dozens more in New York. The company was thriving.

However, after the second World War, Horn & Hardart struggled to keep up with modern times. Changing tastes, reliance on automobiles and the flight to the suburbs slowed business. Urban renewal would claim at least one location when the company was forced to closed their commissary to make way for dorms at Thomas Jefferson University. One location at 16th and Chestnut hoped to revive business by selling alcohol, but to no avail.

The original Automat, at 818 Chestnut Street was auctioned off to the highest bidder in 1969. The interior of the venerable old restaurant was donated to the National Museum of American History and everything else sold. Horn and Hardart continued to limp until 1981 when the company filed for bankruptcy. May 12, 1990 saw the last location close it doors, ending the company’s near ninety-year run as Philadelphia eating institution.

This list, compiled from an undated address list and some research. Some locations may be missing. If you know of more, please leave a comment or e-mail me.

Automats/Cafeterias

234 Market St.
339 Market St.
818 Chestnut St.
808 Arch St.
909 Market St.
1508 Market St.
11th & Market Sts.
101 S. Juniper St.
219 S. Broad St.
248 N. Broad St.
1601 Chestnut St.
1815-17 E. Allegheny
11th & Ludlow Sts.
1321 Market St.
5141 Market St.

Cafeterias

104 S. 8th St.
11th & Market Sts.
101 S. Juniper St.
1508 Market St.
5537 Germantown
4670 Frankford Ave.
3413 Woodland Ave.
6826 Market St.
3638 N. Broad St.
219 S. Broad St.
6006 Market St.
14 Broadway

Restaurant Service

136 Market St.
730 Market St.
104 S. 8th St.
26 N. 11th St.
11th & Ludlow Sts.
106 S. 11th St.
101 S. Juniper St.
126 S. 4th St.
244 N. Broad St.
Broad & Chestnut
818 Chestnut St.
1508 Market St.
1601 Chestnut St.
3940 Chestnut St.
4847 N. Broad St.
1429 Arch St.
11 S. 18th St.
23 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore
412 Old York Rd.
54th & City Line

Retail Shops

232 Market St.
732 Market St.
820 Chestnut St.
17 S. 11th St.
1601 Chestnut St.
3951 Market St.
5137 Market St.
6008 Market St.
3634 N. Broad St.
4847 N. Broad St.
5706 N. Broad St.
5539 Germantown
5543 N. 5th Ave.
4647 Frankford Ave.
5233 Frankford Ave.
6828 Market St.
6333 Woodland Ave.
2710 Germantown
5048 Baltimore Ave.
7308 Frankford Ave.
7200 Ogontz Ave.
6038 Castor Ave.
23 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore
881 Main St., Darby
231 Haverford Ave., Narberth
412 Old York Rd., Jenkintown
63rd & Lancaster Ave., Overbrook
16 Broadway, Camden
719 Haddon Ave., Collingswood
144 Kings Highway, E. Haddonfield

Day Old Shops

243 S. 10th St.
108 W. Girard Ave.

One comment

  1. Your missing the H&H at Germantown and chelten aves. Would have been the 5600 block of Germantown ave. It was just a doorway that lead to a large automat in the basement of I don’t know which stores. Between C.W. Rowls and Woolworths. No storefront at all, just a doorway. I went there many times.

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