hand holding an apple outside the fruit vending machine in front of Mann Library

CALS’ Beloved Apple Vending Machine Remains Fruit-Full

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Big Red Berries (and Grapes and Apples and Tomatoes and Cukes …)

Gaga for Galas? Delighted by Red Delicious? For 70+ years, an iconic campus gizmo has dispensed nutritious snacks

By Joe Wilensky

Just off the Ag Quad, a vending machine that’s beloved by generations of Cornellians offers snacks far healthier than candy, chips, or soda.

Located in the lobby of Mann Library and stocked with vibrantly colored apples—Gala, SweeTango, Ginger Gold, Zestar, and more—the machine continues a seven-decade-long tradition of offering campus dwellers an accessible supply of healthy, Big Red-grown fruits.

The machine enjoys a prominent spot in the lobby in front of the Mann Library entrance
The machine enjoys a prominent spot in the Mann Library lobby.

The CALS icon is operated by the Society for Horticulture at Cornell (SoHo), a grad student group that’s supported in part by proceeds from the apple sales.

And ever since the Cornell Orchards store closed in 2020, it’s been one of just a few places where apple aficionados can acquire their favorite University-grown fruit.

(Other spots typically include the dining halls, P&C Fresh supermarkets in the region, and downtown Ithaca’s annual Apple Harvest Festival.)

Aleah Butler-Jones ’19 stocks the apple vending machine in front of Mann Library
Butler-Jones stocks the machine with the season's first batch. (Joe Wilensky / Cornell University)

The machine’s wares typically come from two nearby Cornell Orchards locations.

But this year, due to the late spring frost that heavily damaged local crops, apples are being brought in from Cornell AgriTech (formerly the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station) in Geneva.

AgriTech operates the nation’s oldest apple breeding program; over the decades, it has developed and released 69 varieties.

The long list includes favorites old and new such as Empire, Cortland, Jonagold, SnapDragon, and RubyFrost.

In mid-September, horticulture grad student Aleah Butler-Jones ’19 stocked the machine—which keeps the fruit at between 38 and 40 °F—and added cards describing each variety.

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“We are the land-grant university of New York, and apples are incredibly important to the state economy,” points out Butler-Jones, who currently oversees the vending operation. “And we’re the only Ivy League university that has a horticulture program.”

Apple vending machines have a long history on the Hill.

The first was installed in the lobby of the Plant Sciences Building in 1954—replacing a wooden crate, regularly filled with surplus apples from the orchards, which sat next to an honor-system cash box.

For many years, the refrigerated “Fruit-o-Matic”—described by the Cornell Countryman as an “ultramodern machine”—was operated by the student Pomology Club, helping support projects and trips, a scholarship, and even a Swedish student exchange program.

Photo shows the "Fruit-o-Matic" vending machine in the Plant Sciences Building in the 1950s
Fresh, chilled Cornell apples were offered beginning in the 1950s. (Rare and Manuscript Collections)

For only a dime, Cornellians in search of a quick, fresh snack on the go could choose from several popular apple varieties and other seasonal fruits during the school year.

In 1955, the machine even took a (very short) road trip, temporarily relocating to the Willard Straight Hall lobby for a three-day gala and showcase event hosted by the Ag college.

Dubbed “Straight to the Country,” it showcased innovative farming techniques and equipment—and was capped by a huge square dance.

More advanced models followed over the years, and the machine eventually moved to its current location.

Nowadays, apples are priced at $1 each—cash, credit card, and wireless payments accepted.

Top: A freshly purchased apple from the vending machine. All photos by Noël Heaney / Cornell University, unless indicated.

Published September 25, 2023


  1. Larry Smart, Class of 1987

    Thanks Aleah and SOHO for stocking the machine with fresh apples from Cornell AgriTech! When we heard that the last machine had died and parts were no longer available, my family was happy to donate funds to replace it and keep that legacy alive that dated back to when my mother (Marjorie Nelson Smart ’57) would be studying in Mann Library. Its one of the unique features of Cornell-CALS!

    • Scott Pesner, Class of 1987

      Thanks Larry and Chris for the gift of the machine, and keeping up the tradition!

    • Adrienne Reing, Class of 1987

      🍎😋👍🏻 thank you!!!!

    • Nancy Yeager

      My daughter is a senior at CALS and I work at the University of North Carolina in Asheville (a mountain town with our own great local apple farmers!). I would love to bring this tradition to our school. Can you tell me who manufactures the vending machine? Not sure if it is a one-of-a-kind built specifically for Cornell.

  2. Rebecca Scheckler

    In the late ’60s and early ’70s our campus Dalmatian, Sam would sit near the Plant Sciences vending machine and beg for Apple cores. Our current batch of three days carry on the tradition by enjoying apples, carrots, and many other fruits and veggies. Apples are always a favorite.

  3. Elisa (Barfus) Bremner, Class of 1990

    I never saw that vending machine when I was on campus (I guess I never studied in Mann Library), but I am so happy to see it now – probably the only of its kind in the US…a vending machine that provides whole, fresh food at reasonable cost. Convenient, accessible, healthy! We need these everywhere!

  4. Mary Hoar, Class of 1970

    Was talking about the wonderful apple vending machine at a non-Cornell conference I attended in Ithaca last week! I loved seeing— and eating— the many wonderful fresh apple varieties available to us at Cornell.

  5. Carlson Yost, Class of 1963

    An apple or two was my lunch many days because I rarely had time to spare running up and down the hill for classes.

  6. Stefan Belman Anita Lesgold Belman

    In the spring of 1959 I, Stefan Belman was seated in the informal reading room of Mann Libe and across from me was a most attractive, blond woman smoking. I approached and bummed a cigarette. I felt I had to reciprocate and suggested we walk through to the pomology dep’t and I buy Anita Lesgold an apple. Anita, later that evening returned to her sorority, SDT and told her roommate Carrie Warnow about meeting this “interesting” vet student whom she will never meet again. That was not to be. Here we are enjoying the fruits of our labors 64 years later, having 2 children and 4 grandchildren dividing out time among Cold Spring Harbor, Manhattan, and a ranch next to Glacier National Park,Montana

  7. Judy Harvey, Class of 1966

    When I had too short a lunch break to trek back from the Ag school to the women’s dorms for lunch, – it was an apple from the machine, a chocolate ice cream cone from the dairy bar, and cup of machine coffee.

  8. Bob Zeidman, Class of 1981

    My freshman year, 1977/78, the machine broke and Cornell flew my high school friend Elliott Engels up from Rutgers where he was studying. He worked on vending machines as a hobby, and no one at Cornell knew how to fix it. I’d say we had a wild and crazy weekend except he spent the entire weekend working on the machine, fixed it, and then flew back.

  9. John Nichols

    Thank you for this article. As an active member of the Pomology Club in the early 1960s I remember the job of keeping the apple vending machine stocked. It was then located in the main lobby of the Plant Sciences building where we stored our supplies in a cooler room. Great memories and yes we did fund some of our student activities from the proceeds. I think George Wilson, Cornell ‘62 will remember this as well. We were both from fruit farms in Western New York. Cornell launched both of our careers. Pomology Club helped!

  10. Sonia Kosow Guterman, Class of 1964

    I loved the apple machine during my years at Cornell from ’60-’65, and working in Harlan Banks’ lab senior year would often get one, it was in the Plant Science building in those years. Even after leaving Cornell I would encounter other Cornellians and often ask, is the apple machine still there? Every now and then we could get a pear from the machine, word would spread, the apple machine has pears. Nice memories, thank you for the article.

  11. Shawn Reeves, Class of 1991

    Thanks to the AVM I got to enjoy NJ-90, the world’s tastiest apple, sadly not marketable, for the year or two it was brought from Geneva.

  12. Mary Maurer

    Thank for sharing the article. The black and white photo is my mother Judith Stong Sullivan – Class of 56! She was reading the article and said that is me! This photo was a “marketing” piece w/ two friends the photographer and apple eater.

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