From somewhere between 1927 and 1939 the jukebox comes from the word juke meaning brothel and similar to the Creole juke from the Gullah region of southern Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida meaning disorderly (which draws upon the West African word dzugu which means wicked). Other connotations include 'dance' with a hint of sex. Another possible origin is that of the workers of jute crop fields who went to bars called Jute Joints where early jukeboxes were installed.

Early jukeboxes were created by the Automatic Music Instrument Company and were 'simply' amplified phonographs (record players) with some selection ability. Combined with prohibition at the time where underground speakeasies needed to have music but could not afford the attention of a live band these rapidly became popular.

The jukebox is partially responsible for the rise of the blues and rockabilly styles that were not held in high enough regard to be played on the radio. Artists such as Arthur Crudup, Muddy Waters and others turned to vinyl and the jukebox as the medium. The jukebox also exposed black artists to white patrons in the segregated world.

Today, the most recognizable style of jukebox is that of the 1946 Wurlitzer 1015 with the colored lights and bubbles along the sides.

The jukebox has been around for about a hundred years, from its first, primitive incarnation as a simple coin-operated phonograph, to the CD- or hard disk-based systems of today. In all that time, the main aim of the jukebox has not changed - to allow people to listen to music in exchange for money.

The earliest jukebox would have been a regular phonograph, modified so that the record would only turn after a coin was inserted. Later models would have a mechanism that allowed multiple records to be played - for instance, by having a stack of records that could be dropped onto the turntable one at a time. However, most of these mechanisms would only allow songs to be played in sequential order.

Just before the turn of the century, Rudolph WurliTzer (the name was, apparently, originally spelt with a capital T) and his three sons had established a musical instrument business in Cincinatti, Ohio, which imported European musical instruments and music boxes and sold them in the States. They discovered that people were willing to pay to listen to music in public places like bars and diners, and started distributing coin operated music boxes and player pianos.

Not long before the Great Depression, a company named Simplex invented a mechanism which would allow the jukebox user to select which record they wanted the jukebox to play next, rather than having to listen to the records in sequential order. At this time, the Wurlitzer company owned a massive factory with several production lines dedicated to producing pianos, musical instruments and the giant theatre organs which were used to accompany silent movies. The Depression sent the company's shares plunging, and put them deeply into debt. Farney Wurlitzer, Rudolph's youngest son, saw an opportunity in Simplex's product, and bought the rights to manufacture and distribute it. The new jukebox proved to be a sound investment, turning the company into a multi-million-dollar enterprise. By 1936, Wurlitzer were selling 44,000 jukeboxes per year.

However, by the early 1950s Wurlitzer had fallen behind, and newer companies - Rockola, AMI and Seeburg - had introduced machines which held more discs and which had better machinery which broke down less often.

The 1930s jukeboxes held from ten to sixteen 78 rpm records, and were built with boxy cases of polished wood and metal. Over the next ten years, designers started using brightly colored plastic and electric lighting, and making their designs curvier and more rounded. Many incorporated glass windows in front of the mechanism, allowing the public to watch as records were picked from a stack, flipped over and gently dropped onto the turntable. The average 1940s jukebox held around 24 records, and could only play one side of each.

If you say the word 'jukebox' to someone, chances are they'll think of the Wurlitzer Model 1015 jukebox, introduced in 1946.

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      Wurlitzer Model 1015

This jukebox has been printed on a US stamp, and a German company with the rights to the Wurlitzer name started manufacturing the "One More Time" - a 1015 lookalike using CD technology - in 1985.

In 1947, Seeburg revolutionised the jukebox world by introducing a one-hundred-song jukebox, which held fifty discs and allowed both sides of each disc to be played. Some designers styled their jukeboxes after classic American muscle cars, using low angular designs in chrome and aluminium, with long glass fronts putting the long racks of discs on show. The new Seeburg jukeboxes used the small, light and relatively sturdy 45 rpm records instead of large and fragile 78s.

Over the next thirty years, with the advent of cheap consumer radio and TV, the demand for jukeboxes grew less. Wurlitzer went out of business in the late seventies. Vinyl-playing jukeboxes are rare these days, although their modern-day equivalents are still found here and there, playing music from CDs or occasionally internal hard drives.

History of Jukeboxes: - Ken Durham
The Wurlitzer Name Lives On: - Ken Durham (note: this page contains a script which will direct you to the main site if you load the page from outside a frameset. Turn off Javascript before loading...)

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