While coin operated vending machines may now seem like a part of the distant past, they were once commonly used to sell all kinds of goods and products, including fortunes and songs. The beautiful Mills Novelty Company factory and administration building held one of the world's largest manufacturers of coin operated machines. The company was founded by Mortimer Birdsul Mills in the 1880’s, though Mortimer would be awarded his first official patent for a coin-actuated vending machine in 1891. The groundbreaking patent allowed the customer to reconfigure what was sold in the vending machine and have it dispense like a typical coin slot machine.
The company would also later become popular for their slot machines and jukeboxes, which were produced inside the Fullerton Ave manufacturing plant in Chicago beginning in 1926. It is rumored that the building and company had ties to the infamous mobster, Al Capone, during this era. It is speculated that Capone may have used the Mills Novelty manufacturing operations to assist with shipping illegal booze around the country during the Prohibition period. The building had both a private ice cream parlor and barbershop added to the rooftop, perhaps to entertain the whimsy of a particular notorious gangster. Remnants of the barbershop and parlor still exist to this day and can be seen from the street side, appearing as tower additions to the rooftop facade.
In 1944 the company changed its name to Mills Industries Incorporated and the slot machine division would become owned by the Bell-O-Matic Corporation. The Bell-O-Matic Corporation was the world's exclusive distributor of Mills Bell Products, and they adopted the playful slogan "It's a Jewel of a Bell, this Mills Jewel Bell". U-Haul acquired the building in July of 1999 and opened for business in 2002 after the first phase of renovations were complete. The renovations included a stunning conversion, featuring 1930s bank-style decor for the center’s showroom.
Serving U-Haul customers since 2002, this facility was built through adaptive reuse of an abandoned building. Adaptive reuse promotes infill development in an effort to strengthen communities, with the following benefits achieved at this site:
- 224 tons of metal manufacturing & transportation prevented
- 32,756 tons of new concrete pours avoided
- 34,187 tons of construction and demolition debris prevented
Energy-efficiency and waste-reduction programs at this facility provide the following estimated benefits each year for the Chicago community:
- 361,454 kWh annual energy savings
- 14,338,225 lbs greenhouse gas emissions prevented
224 tons (203 tonnes) of steel manufacturing and delivery saved to date
361,454 kWh annual energy savings
32,756 tons (29,724 tonnes) of new concrete pours avoided to date
14,338,225 lbs (6,503,776 kgs) of greenhouse gas emissions prevented
34,187 lbs (31,023 kgs) of construction debris prevented