A Brief History of Jukeboxes

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Juke (and jook) are corruptions of the Elizabethan English ’jouk,’ meaning to dance. The term was used by slaves brought to North America from West Africa and came to mean to ’dance’ or ’act wildly’ (i.e. disorderly) after working in the fields.

The term juke-joint was used to describe a small inexpensive café, or low-class roadhouse, or makeshift bar mainly in the southern states of the US and patronised by African Americans. Juke joints were the meeting place for local musicians.

A juke-box describes an automatic coin-operated phonograph which was introduced circa, 1889 by Louis Glass and Partners. They appeared in Palais Royal Saloon, San Francisco and replaced mechanical musical instruments like coin-operated pianos and orchestrators.

jukebox 1950s zani 2Louis Glass and Partners

The basics for the phonograph were pioneered by Thomas Alva Edison (better known for the invention of the lightbulb) in 1871. Later Emil Berliner patented the gramophone in 1887 and the phonogram was used to record and play music. Jukeboxes became a very profitable industry from the 1890s onwards with Phonographic Arcades found all over the US and Europe. The earliest machines were simple wooden boxes with coin slots and a few buttons. They played only a single record but later devices were designed to allow multiple record selection.

In 1927 the Automatic Music Instrument Company created the world's first electrically amplified multi-selection phonograph and over time jukeboxes became more and more decorated, using colour lights, rotating lights, chrome, bubble tubes, ceiling lamps, and other visual gimmicks. The jukeboxes began to replace live music in many establishments. These were cheap and reasonably mobile so in the Era of Prohibition, jukeboxes provided popular music in the Speakeasies.

In the thirties, after the Depression, sales in jukeboxes rose exponentially and became an established industry. Manufacturers made more palatial models as companies like Wurlitzer, Seeburg, and Rock-Ola became brand leaders. Casings came in ornate designs made from wood, metal, and phenolic resins with tubes of enchanting cellophane, Polaroid film, and plastic. During the Second World War the production of jukeboxes was halted in the US but started soon after with the Wurlitzer's 1946 model 1015, the most popular of the era.

jukebox 1950s zani 1940s

The late 40s became the "golden age" of jukebox styling with the gothic-like curvaceous "electric rainbow cathedral" look. One of the best-known designers was Paul Fuller (1934-1948) and the Wurlitzer model "1015-Bubbler" typified the look becoming arguably, the most popular jukebox design of all time. According to Ladwig people made their decision about where to go on a Saturday night based on the quality of the jukebox. By 1948 the jukebox era had peaked and many of the original manufacturing companies closed their doors.

Many of the original working models survived into the 50s and became more associated with the 50s pop culture. Initially shellac 78 rpm records had dominated but this changed when 45 rpm vinyl records were introduced by the Seeburg Corporation in 1950. The 50s, music was divided into respectable music played live on the radio, i.e. classical, swing, jazz orchestras or show tunes; and ‘Race Music’ or ‘Rockabilly.’ The latter was considered too low brow for public taste and rarely if ever was it given airplay. The jukebox became one of the few places to hear this type of music and the rising popularity of singers like Carl Perking, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley was encouraged through the jukebox because it was the music and not the colour of the singer that mattered. The jukebox plays ensured large record sales and so was available wherever adolescents and young adults gathered. The basic design changed with the introduction of 45 rpm and the classic 40s monoliths of yellow catalin plastic were replaced with box-like jukeboxes styled in chrome which became more and more “high-tech." In the 60s as fast food outlets replaced the old milk bars, and coffee houses, jukebox designs changed and wall-mounted remote selectors became commonplace in restaurant booths. The introduction of the transistor, and pop radio stations had an immense impact on the popularity of the jukebox which dipped in the sixties. There was a minor revival in the 70s with the advent of rock

jukebox 1950s zani girl 1960s

The article used by Kind Permission and with thanks from ZANI


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