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The Penny Arcade

 The Coin Operated Machine Information Site 


                                                      The Juke Box Age







 There are some great sites on the web dealing with juke boxes and we wont show or pretend to know, as much  as they do on this site (our links page will point you to them for in depth information on the golden age of the juke box), but as a coin op site we wouldn't be complete without a brief look at some of the styles, history and makers of the great juke boxes that supplied us with music for almost 100 years.

The early mechanical age

For some reason the quest to provide automatically played music has always interested people and  goes back well before 1800 but as its coin operated we deal with here we will pick it up with McTammany coin operated player piano of 1876.


                        Seeburg Coin Operated Piano                                  Wurlitzer coin operated Piano                                        

He was the first to really overcome the problem of using slotted rolls of paper, tin or card to play different songs. Soon many companies were refining the process and some companies that would later to become true juke box makers were leading the pack. J.P. Seeburg (1871-1958) was perhaps the leader and became known as the "king of the player piano" and released his automatic orchestra machine. Rudolph Wurlitzer (1831-1914)  had switched from importing and making musical instruments to making automatic barrel organs for fairgrounds and would soon develop the mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ that was to become the pinnacle of  silent movie accompaniment.  Fred Mills at Mills Novelty developed the amazing Virtuoso   (see the mills collection).


                            Seeburg Orchestrion G                                                          Mills Volano Virtuoso

The automatic piano reached it peak in the 1920's and early 30's but the writing was already on the wall .


                                                      The Electric Recording Breakthrough


                                     Glass & Arnold patent for the first "juke box" type machine         

  As early as 1889 when Louis Glass & William S. Arnold retro fitted an Edison Class M electric phonograph with their patented automatic coin attachment and the Juke box (although not know by that name then) was born. The machine was made by the Pacific Phonograph Co and the first machine installed for public use was in the The Palais Royale Saloon ,San Francisco at 5am EST on the 23rd November 1889


These first true juke boxes would seem very tame today, they played just one song through  flexible speaking tubes (later a horn) but they caught the public's imagination and the ball was set in motion.


                        Early Wurlitzer selector                                                                Mills Empress selector

It wasn't till 1918 that the big breakthrough came with the invention of the automatic selector by a man with the unforgettable name of Hobart C. Niblack and in collaboration with the Automatic musical instrument Co (better know later as AMI) produced the first multi play jukebox in 1927.This machine used several turntables each with its own record so with space limited choices were few,only four at first.


 Within a year Seeburg, who from this point on would always at the front of juke box development launched an 8 record multi player ,overcoming the space  problem of large,  78rpm discs by mounting 8 separate turntables  on a Ferris wheel like frame. This worked well enough but the fragile Shellac records were still a problem and his next machine ,a 10 disc player, mounted the turntables in a vertical stack.


                                                 Seeburg "Selectaphone delux" 10 player                        

       The pre war expanstion



                                                                             David Rock-ola                                 

At about this time  a new and colourful figure arrives on the juke box scene . David Cullen Rockola, a small time coin machine operator who was forced to flee Chicago  one step ahead of both the police and the mobsters he had turned states evidence against (along with another coin name, Keeney). Rockola went to California and founded the Rockola scale Co in 1927 and started making scales, gaming machines and games (notably shuffleboards). Having actually changed his name to Rock-ola because so many people mispronounced it how could he have produced anything other than juke boxes and they were soon his main product. Although it was many years before rock and Roll hit the scene it is generally accepted that the term rock and roll was at least partly coined from the popular Rock-ola juke box.



                                        Rock-ola     1424                                                            Rock ola 1428    

By 1941 the juke box was established and popularity was growing fast and the term Juke box appears for the first time, the word Juke meant rowdy or wicked so I guess the term was valid. By this time Mills, Seeburg,Rock- ola and Wurlitzer were producing some of the classic designs culminating in the classic Wurlitzer 850 in 1941. 


                                                                                  Wurlitzer 850        



                                      Early wurlitzer                                                                          Mills Empress



                                          Wurlitzer 616 (1938)                                                      Rock ola patent

With the outbreak of war in that year all juke box production stopped dead. The US government deemed them an un necessary use of war materials like metal and plastic (Wurlitzer produced its last per war machines with wooden coin slides.) For the next 4 years Mills produced artillery shells, Wurlitzer made bomb fuses and Rock-ola made 228,000 M1 carbines.

The post war boom

After the war the real juke box boom years (1945-1965) begin and the classic designs take over from the functions of the machine, in 1946 Wurlitzer designer Paul Fuller designed the iconic model 1015 featuring water tubes with moving bubbles, 56,242 of these units were made in the next 2 years. Other companies were bringing out better looking machines each year but demand for more selections put a stop to external design when the need for more selection space on the case took over with 60+ record machines. The very popular (in the USA) counter units allowing customers to make their selections from there diner booth or bar stool  also did away with the need for a focal point machine.



                                              Bar unit                                                        Seeburg select-o-matic  wall unit                

The importance of the juke box to the music publishing industry is often understated, music and record companies relied on Juke boxes not only for high revenue but as important test beds for everything from record wear to judging which performers to keep on the books, and the switch from fragile 78rpm 12 inch Shellac discs to  durable 7 inch 45rpm vinyl disc was a direct result of the juke box industry ,mostly through the recommendation of Seeburg. The 45rpm disc changed juke box design completely, machines became lower, held more records and had larger selection boards.


                                                                           two iconic machines

                          The wurlitzer 1015                               The Seeburg Symphonia (always called the "Trashcan"


In Europe ,after the war, Germany went overboard for jukeboxes and with the US companies unable to fulfil orders TH. Bergmann among others saw the potential and started making several good quality good looking machines, NSM got on the scene distributing Seeburgs but soon started making their own machines and by the 1980's had the largest juke box factory in the world,the company still makes CD juke boxes today. The Uk were somewhat slow in catching up (for 50,000 in Germany there were only 20,000 in the UK) and were at first hampered by import laws that demanded that over 50% of jukebox parts be made in the UK.


                                TH Bergmann Conterto                                                 later Bergmann


   The innovative German built Wiegandt Tonmaster                                    NSM Satelite

                               wall mount (1956-61)                    


At this point, another colorful figure enters the field in form of Sam Norman. Seeing the demand partly being filled by the unrestricted TH Bergmann machines  Norman did a deal with AMI to build their machines under license at his Balfour Marine factory in the UK using 53% local parts, this and his ruthless business practices made him a multi-millionaire with yachts,Rolls Royce cars, aircraft and houses all over the world, he once admitted he needed £1000 a week to live his lifestyle, a great deal of money in 1959. But it came at a price, he had few friends and went everywhere with a bodyguard. He was well known as a man who always got what he wanted and one you didn't cross. Once after being told it was impossible he went to the Vatican, demanded an audience with the pope, got one, and returned home with a bottle of wine from the Vatican wine cellars to prove it! The one thing he couldn't insist on was a long life, he died of cancer in 1962 aged 44.


          Sam Norman in his sports plane                          at a time when most people had never even been in a                                                                                              plane   Sam had his own private 20 seat airliner 



  In Typical Sam Norman style the plane was used as a flying Jukebox showroom (surely the only one                           ever)   The plane was scrapped at Southend airport in 1962 after its flight cert expired



                           The Bal-Ami factory,I wouldn't trust the spiv in the leather gloves                                                                                                                                                                                                 

                         The lovely Bal-Ami  "D"  1951                                              Bal-ami Super 40       

Ruffler & Walker were quick to jump on the Jukebox wagon becoming the Rock-ola distributor in the UK, a move that was to make the company rich.

The End of an era

By 1959 the jukebox era was, all be it with still with a few years to go, facing its demise. The introduction of the first successful portable radios (and later the music cassette) was removing the demand for music on-site and the traditional jukebox sites started to lose their machines. Army barracks, launderettes, diners, and restaurants were the first to go, coffee bars, milk bars, amusement arcades, and pubs were the last. The introduction of the CD and Mp3 jukebox revived things at times but with everyone carrying their own music it could never last.

I once bought four free play, 40 selection pub jukeboxes designed to supply a selection of varied background music from behind the bar, they were launched just in time to be totally un-wanted in 1969,I paid just £20 each for them, brand new!

      The 60's look


                          This Seeburg Fleetwood model was the only full-sized Jukebox I have ever owned

    mine had different artwork, bought from the arcade I was working nights at in Tooting SW London

                                                                                  in the 1970s       

  Where did they all go?

The Seeburg Family sold out in 1956 but the company went on to buy Williams pinball Co in 1960 but was in debt by 1970 and bankrupt by 1979, Antique apparatus Co bought the remains and still produce a modern juke box selection.

Wurlitzer was sold to a German company in 1972 but closed in 2013, the remains were bought up by the Gibson Guitar Co.

Rock-ola made a staggering 400,000 jukeboxes and still exist,in a small way

The only traditional 45 rpm vinyl jukebox being made today is the Vinyl Rocket from the Sound Leisure Co in the UK. Retailing at a staggering £8,000 each.


                                                  Sound Leisure's Vinyl Rocket, yours today, new from £8,000 



           This remarkable British jukebox made in Bristol between 1959 and  1962 used several new ideas and techniques with varying success The dome was plastic and soft enough to be burned through with a cigarette allowing a knitting needle to be inserted giving free plays. It also arrived on the scene too late to be a major player. It was made by Frenchay Products (originally designed by Jean Foufounais and Andre Deviaz in 1954)




                           One unusual and one very odd type of jukebox deserves a mention.

              The Telephone Jukebox

          This strange invention consisted of what looked much like a large jukebox but was, in fact, a big telephone, it was connected to a dedicated exchange and the customer paid his Dime, picked up the receiver and was connected to a well spoken lady at the exchange ,he told her which of the large selection of songs listed on the base unit he wanted  ,she found it, put it on the turntable and played it for                       him through the Juke box speakers. Amazingly this was very successful.


                                                                 Rock-Ola "Mystic Music" Telephone Juke box


         Telephone jukebox call centre and the operators who answered the call,found the record and played it   

                                                                          (this photo is a rare find)   




    Movie poster for "The swing Hostess" a movie that used a Jennings Telephone juke box operator as the main theme




              The Panoram

 Mills produced this video jukebox (a film clip in reality) before WW2 .It showed what we would call now a music video, the single  selection was meant to be changed regularly, although it appears to be a TV screen the film was projected onto the inside of the screen using a complicated mirror system that involved mounting the film in reverse. Mills had over 10,000 of these on sites in New York in 1940.                                                         (See this machine in action at the top left of the page)


                                                                             Mills Panoram 

Organized Crime and the Jukebox

Coin-op and gaming machines were always popular with the mob right from the word go but it was the Jukebox they loved best. With no payouts, the high yield, ease of skimming of profits, freedom of places to site the machines, and ease of avoiding taxes it was a big draw and it seems that all the big jukebox manufactures were all, at some time,  either unwittingly, coerced or (in Rock-ola's case) knowingly drawn into their web. Many jukebox distributors in the large US cities were blatantly mobsters and there was little the manufacturers could do about it or, perhaps, they simply didn't care.


                               Wurlitzer executives meet their new distributors in New york

                                            Meyer Lansky  & and Jimmy"Blue eyes"Alo

            Jukeboxes that demand the highest prices in the collectors market today include

               The Rock-ola President (only one is known to exist and is valued at $150,000

                    the 1952 Seeburg M100C which featured in series 1 to 10 of Happy days

                      the 1947 Rock-ola 1422 which featured in series 11 of Happy days

                                              the 1967 TH Bergmann concerto

                                                                The Wurlitzer 1015

                                                  The Wurlitzer 950 (only 80 remain)

                                                            The very rare 1927 Link

                                                             Photos from the factories  


                                                        Seeburg "Trashcans" at the factory 


                                                           machines being cased ready to ship  


                                                         Wurlitzer's at their factory 


 Of all  coin operated machines the juke box must be the one that has given the best opportunity for eye                               catching design. Here are just a few classic models from the past 


                                                  AMI 1942                                                                           Bal-ami super 100



                                       1947 Seeburg Trashcan                                                                     1959 AMI



                        British built Hawtins "Jack Hylton"                                                          Seeburg 9800



                                                                                       Wurlitzer 750E


                                       Mills constellation                                                            Mills Throne of music 


                              late model Wurlitzer                                                                         Fiben Maestro



                          Seeburg Select-o-matic                                                                   Mills Zephyr



                        Wurlitzer  1080 "Victory"                                                          Wurlitzer  Zodiac



                             Rock ola Capri II                                                             Rock ola 1484 Stero



                               AMI Rowe model 1938                                                          Aireon Streamliner



                                              Wurlitzer 800                                                                      Wurlitzer 1550a


                                                                                Flyers and Adds  


                                                                 Seeburg, trade show,Hamburg 1954





                                                                                     Back in the day


              Elvis lets someone else do the singing                                



                                                                                                            GI's (1940's)their tin hats stacked on the Mills juke box