Did you know that the jukeboxes can be traced back to Thomas Edison, the inventor of cameras and light bulbs? How about the fact that people had to listen to jukebox music using one of the four sharing tubes? These are just some interesting facts about the history of jukeboxes.
If you’re keen to find out more about the jukebox history, do scroll down for an adventure through time, space and music!
Table of Contents
1877 – Firstly, let’s talk about the phonograph. Thomas Edison’s early phonograph recorded onto a thin sheet of cylindrical metal. While the cylinder was rotated and slowly progressed along its axis, the airborne sound vibrated a diaphragm connected to a stylus that indented the foil into the cylinder’s groove. It thus records the vibrations as “hill-and-dale” variations of the depth of the indentation.
You might be thinking: cylinder? But what about CD or vinyl?
Of course, it would be much more convenient to use a flat recording surface instead of a cylindrical one. Charles Cros proposed that in 1877 but never implemented it.
Vinyl Phonograph (Gramophone)
1887 – Emile Berliner patented a variant of the phonograph, named the gramophone. Having an approach similar to Cros’, the diaphragm linked to the recording stylus vibrates side to side. It traces a spiral onto a zinc disc very thinly coated with beeswax. But how do you make sure that the indentions stay? Well, the zinc disc was then immersed in a bath of chromic acid, which etched a groove into the disc where the stylus had removed the coating. After which, the recording could be played.
The vinyl (or phonograph record) co-existed with the phonograph cylinder from the late 1880s.
Coin Operated Phonograph (Nickel-In-The-Slot Phonograph)
1889 – Louis Glass and William Arnold invented a nickel-in-the-slot (coin-operated) phonograph with four ‘listening’ tubes. How exactly does it work? Well, slot the nickel into the machine. The phonograph then allowed the listener to turn a crank that simultaneously wound the spring motor and placed the reproducer’s stylus in the starting groove.
However, at that time, a machine only played one song, and you would need to listen to the recording through tubes. Talk about hygiene.
1889 – In May 1889, the first ‘phonograph parlor‘ opened. It featured a row of coin-operated machines, each supplied with a different wax cylinder record.
You should be wondering by now: Did musicians have to self-record every single cylinder? Yes, you’re right — each record had to be custom-made.
1890 – By 1890, thankfully, record manufacturers had begun using a rudimentary duplication process to mass-produce their product. An advanced pantograph-based process made it possible to simultaneously produce 90-150 copies of each record.
Yet, popular artists still needed to re-record their songs as demand for certain records grew. For instance, George Washington Johnson had to perform his ‘The Laughing Song’ thousands of times in a studio during his recording career.
Mid-1890s – By then, most American cities had at least one phonograph parlor. The phenomenon of phonograph parlors peaked in Paris around 1900: in Pathé’s luxurious salon, patrons sat in plush upholstered chairs and chose from among many hundreds of available cylinders by using speaking tubes to communicate with attendants on the floor below. Sounds like a legitimate parlor, doesn’t it?
1912 – The phonograph disc record had effectively superseded the phonograph cylinder.
Multi-Select Phonograph & Amplified Phonograph
1927 – Without amplification, it was impossible for a large group of listeners to enjoy the music. Automated Musical Instrument Company (AMI) developed an amplifier, surging the popularity of jukeboxes. It reduced the need to listen through tubes, the main form of listening to music in jukebox history.
It was especially popular in the illegal speakeasies of the Prohibition Era because it provided a cheap form of entertainment. AMI sold 50,000 of its amplified machines in one year, bringing to life the age of the jukebox.
Multi-select Jukebox (Audiophone)
1928 – Justus P. Seeburg, who was manufacturing player pianos, was one of the first manufacturers of a multi-select jukebox. Termed audiophone, this machine was bulky as it had 8 separate turntables mounted on a rotating Ferris-like device. It allowed patrons to select from eight different records.
1930s – Record sales plummeted from $75 million in 1929 to $5 million in 1933 as people lost the ability to spend on entertainment.
1938 – The growing popularity of the jukebox and the purchases by store owners that went along with it resurrected the waning music business. That year, the industry had resurfaced at $25 million in sales.
The First ‘Jukebox’ in History
Though we’re talking about the history of jukebox here, the word ‘jukebox‘ only came into use in the US beginning in 1940. Jukeboxes were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. By the middle of the 1940s, three-quarters of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes.
1940 – That year, there were already 400,000 jukeboxes in use in the US. These jukeboxes primarily played jazz swing (from the 1930s) and early rock and roll music (from the mid-1940s) but also offered classical music and opera choices.
WW2 – The production of jukeboxes was halted in the USA in order to pour resources and labour into the war effort. Afterwards, the jukebox industry came back in full swing.
Classic Jukebox (Wurlitzer 1015)
1940s – Three names remain synonymous with the jukebox history and industry: Seeburg, Rock-Ola and Wurlitzer. Though each company began creating jukeboxes, jukebox design came into its own with the help of a few great designers employed by the companies.
1946 – Wurlitzer 1015 was introduced and became the biggest selling jukebox in history. Along with other spectacular models, it was designed by Paul Fuller and it pushed Wurlitzer to the top of the industry.
Wurlitzer models were works of art, featuring rotating lights and art deco styled cabinets. Considered an iconic style, it had tubes of flowing bubbles that moved along the machine’s arched top. In Wurlitzer 1015’s original run, it sold a total of 56, 246 boxes.
Multi-select Jukebox (Select-O-Matic 100)
In the early days of the jukebox, the 78rpm record was standard and until 1949, only 10 to 24 selections could be played on one machine.
1949 – Seeburg changed the face of jukebox history when it engineered a mechanism that could play both sides of 50 records, a true 100-select jukebox. This mechanism was so reliable that it nearly put all other manufacturers out of business.
1950s – In 1950, Seeburg introduced the first commercial jukebox designed to play the then-new 45 rpm records. They increased the number of records from 50 to 100, eventually settling on 50 or 80 per machine.
What are 78rpm and 45rpm records though? RPM refers to revolutions per minute. Thus, the speed of 78rpm records was much faster than that of 45rpm. The major advantage that 45rpm records brought to the table was certainly one of size. They were physically smaller than 78s, which meant that the records themselves could be produced less expensively. In terms of audio quality, the two were about the same, so that size quickly became a large part of the reason why 45s quickly surpassed 78s in terms of mass audience appeal.
The Decline of the Jukebox in History
Traditional jukeboxes once were an important source of income for record publishers. Jukeboxes were always the first to receive the newest recordings.
With advances in technology though, the portable radio (1950s) and the portable cassette tape deck (1960s) were key factors in the decline of the jukebox.
1970s – Jukeboxes became a dying industry, as people sought more convenient alternatives to listen to music. Many companies exited the market at that time, even the ones that contributed greatly to the jukebox history.
1980s – The jukebox industry was revived somewhat by compact disc jukeboxes and digital jukeboxes using the MP3 format. While jukeboxes maintain popularity in bars, they have fallen out of favour with what were once their more lucrative locations — restaurants, diners, military barracks, video arcades, and laundromats. A growing antique market promoted refurbished classic models. However, these collectibles that were once sold for $750 are now approximately $12,000.
Present Day Jukeboxes
Both companies manufacture jukeboxes based on a CD playing mechanism, but Sound Leisure recently introduced the traditional vinyl jukebox back into the market. It truly pays a tribute to the rich jukebox history.