Block of the Week: Dispenser

Gives as good as it gets!

We learnt from our mothers at an early age that it's rude to spit. But there's one block in Minecraft that never learnt that lesson. Which probably makes it the rudest in the game.

Dispensers were added to Minecraft in January 2011 as part of the Beta 1.2 update, making them as old as squid, bonemeal, note blocks and sandstone. To start with, they were a little limited - but over the years, they've been given more features than you can cram into their roomy interior.

You're expecting me to list those features? Oh, alright then! Fill one with arrows and it becomes a deadly trap. Fill one with water buckets and it becomes an irrigation system. Fill one with boats and it becomes a drydock. Position a dispenser just so, and you can use it to barf out a pumpkin onto a T-shaped stack of iron, and so create a golem (or, if you fancy a challenge, have it deposit a wither skeleton skull onto a pile of soul sand).

Want more? You got more! Fill one with armour and it'll auto-equip a player standing in front of it. Fill one with spawn eggs to summon mobs. Fill one with fire charges and you've got a robotic Blaze. Fill one with potions and you've got a buffing machine. Fill one with bonemeal to automatically grow trees. Fill one with fireworks for a celebration. Or fill one with TNT for an explosive surprise!

Minecraft's dispensers have a long history in the real world, where we know them as vending machines. Amazingly, the first vending machine was created by Hero of Alexandria - an engineer in first-century Roman Egypt. He built a machine where a coin that was placed in a slot would fall on a pan attached to a lever, which would then open a valve and let holy water flow out of a spout for the customer.

Modern coin-operated vending machines arose in the 1600s in British pubs, where they would dispense tobacco, and by the late 1800s they were found in almost every railway station and post office in the land - selling postcards, envelopes, notepaper and stamps. In 1893, a German chocolate manufacturer used them to sell not just chocolate but also cigarettes, chewing gum and soap.

Today, it's possible to buy almost anything from a vending machine. In 1982, an Australian company invented one that dispenses hot french fries, while in 2009 an Italian entrepreneur invented a vending machine that makes fresh pizza from scratch. Some libraries have book vending machines, and there's even a 15-storey-tall luxury car vending machine in Singapore!

But the place with the most vending machines per person is definitely Japan, where they're a common sight on almost every street corner - there's one machine for every 23 people in the country! So next time you're planning a Japanese-themed build, you should probably include a dispenser or two. Y'know, for full realism.

Duncan Geere
Written By
Duncan Geere