Jukebox History

WurlitzerCoin-operated music boxes and player pianos were the first forms of automated coin-operated musical devices. These were soon followed in the 1890s by coin-operated phonographs. The introduction of recording on wax cylinder recordsĀ  made possible records which could survive many plays, and early operators converted cylinder phonographs to accept a coin, usually a nickel, which unlocked the mechanism, allowing the listener to turn a crank which simultaneously wound the spring motor and placed the reproducer’s stylus in the starting groove. Frequently exhibitors would equip many of these machines with listening tubes (acoustic headphones) and array them in “phonograph parlors” allowing the patron to select between multiple records, each played on its own machine. Some machines even contained carousels and other mechanisms for playing multiple records. However, by the early 1900s the novelty of the phonograph wore off and this, combined with the advent of phonographs in the home, as well as the increasing sophistication and volume of mechanical orchestrions in public facilities, led to the decline of the coin-operated phonograph industry.

The advent of electrical recording and amplification led to a resurgence of the coin-operated phonograph.
Though the technology had existed since 1918, when Hobart C. Niblack of Rochester, NY patented an apparatus that automatically changed records, one of the first successful selective jukeboxes was an automatic phonograph produced in 1927 by the Automated Musical Instrument Company, later known as AMI. With the passage of time the and development of technology new products are manufactured and consequently in 1928, Justus P. Seeburg, who manufactured player pianos, created an electrostatic loudspeaker combined with a record player that was coin operated and gave the listener a choice of eight records. The shellac 78 rpm record dominated jukeboxes until the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950.

The term “juke box” came into use in the United States around 1940, apparently derived from the familiar usage “juke joint”, derived from the Gullah word “juke” or “joog” meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked. This term, like thousands of words in the Gullah language, likely originated in Western Africa near Sierra Leone and is akin to the Wolof dzug and Bambara dzugu.

Wallboxes were an important, and profitable, part of any jukebox installation. Basically a remote control, they enabled patrons to select tunes from their table or booth. The most famous is the Seeburg 3W1, introduced in 1949 as companion to the new 100-select Model M100A jukebox. Stereo sound became popular in the early 1960s, and wallboxes of the era were designed with built-in speakers to provide patrons a sample of this latest technology. Interestingly, for the next several years, there were very few stereo 45 rpm records made; the “little LP” (also referred to as “stereo 7″) was designed and manufactured specifically for jukeboxes. It played at 33 1/3 rpm and was the same physical size as the 45 rpm records, to retain compatibility with the jukebox mechanisms.

Some jukeboxes during this time were able to play other special 33 discs of 45 size, which provide a longer song or multiple songs, for a higher price. These specialty records (known as EPs, for “extended play”) were provided by the unique vendor that supplied records to the operator. Those decades also produced models with ornate lighting, disco and psychedelic effects, and other cosmetic improvements while the internal mechanisms remained moderately stable by comparison. Song-popularity counters told the operator the number of times each record was played (A and B side were generally not distinguished), with the result that popular records remained, while lesser-played songs were replaced with the latest hits.

Jukeboxes and their ancestors were a very profitable industry from the 1890s on. They 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. Today they are often associated with early rock and roll music, but were very popular in the swing music era as well. As a result, stores and restaurants with a retro theme, such as the Johnny Rockets chain, include jukeboxes.

Starting in the 1980s, compact discs became the norm for modern jukeboxes. Towards the end of the 20th century several companies started introducing completely digital jukeboxes which did not use physical recordings. The music selection and playback system was replaced by a dedicated proprietary computer. A selection of songs suitable to the venue where the jukebox is located are generally cached in the local storage of the machine. The true advantage of this design is the seemingly endless selection of music available instantly to the customer by automatic download from an internet connection.

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