Jukebox History 1934-1951
the late thirties the public atmosphere in
In the early thirties, however, the modern automatic phonograph was not yet considered a housetrained piece of machinery, and today it might be right with a popular expression to call the following period the hobbledehoy stage of the jukebox. Today we know it more correctly as the Golden Age. The latter half of the thirties was definitely a period with circumstances important for the development of the jukebox towards the hey-days of design in the years 1941/42. Circumstances like the difficult economic situation, the war that might come, the invention of new techniques, and certainly the public yearning for musical entertainment. All considered one cannot expect that a similar breathtaking era will ever be possible in the future history of the jukebox concept.
The period prior to the Golden Age gave birth indeed to a growing demand for music machines, and in the years 1934-36 there was a perceptible competition among the relatively few manufacturers to operate automatic phonographs in diners, saloons, and other small locations of entertainment. The production of jukeboxes in large numbers was no longer tantamount to a safe increase in earnings. An effective marketing with a steady release of new models became more and more important for the survival of the manufacturing companies, and the production year gradually became of great importance, when the owner of a saloon or diner should be talked into accepting a new piece of furniture.
though the manufacturers had consulted industrial designers during the
development of new models for years it was not until 1938, when the J. P. Seeburg Corporation intensely started to put catalin-plastics into the wooden cabinets, it was
understood how important the designers were for the expected success of the
jukebox business. The first design patents of the golden era covering jukebox
cabinets were filed in 1934 by Theodore E. Samuelson. The two design patents
were both assigned to The John Gabel Manufacturing Company of
The year after Charles Nairn Deverall assigned the design patent for the Wurlitzer P-12 with illuminated dial to the manufacturer, the noted designer Paul M. Fuller was employed by The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company as a kind of design consultant. Paul M. Fuller is today considered to be the most important designer in the history of jukeboxes, and it seems that the combination of the two energetic, cigar-smoking gentlemen of the same age (both born in 1897), sales manager Homer Earl Capehart and designer Paul M. Fuller, kept the Wurlitzer company alive as a producer of coin-op pre-recorded music machines after the coin-operated organ and piano business died out as one of the consequences of the Depression 1929-1934. The employment of Paul M. Fuller in fact gave the company a leading position on the market during the early years of the forties, the hey-days, and one might state for sure that the team led by Paul M. Fuller made a line of jukeboxes superior to those of the competitors.
The automatic phonographs had suddenly become a real financial success for several companies like The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, the J. P. Seeburg Corporation, the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation (David C. Rockola delivered one of the new 12-selection phonographs to the decks of the luxury liner Queen Mary on her maiden voyage from New York in 1936), and the Automatic Musical Instrument Company, also called AMI. The big four mentioned here were of course not the only ones to produce classic designs. A relatively large number of design patents is today proof of the presence of many hard-working industrial designers.
mentioned previously the J. P. Seeburg Corporation
used catalin-plastics in the music machines around
1938. Two industrial designers were connected to the company, and they worked
hard to create successful designs. One of them, Henry T. Roberts, also designed
radios, and the other, Nels A. Miller, became a noted
designer after the war with the rather special Trash Can models. The
official names were of course Seeburg Symphonola P-146, P-147, and P-148. Using
the word catalin, 'the gem of plastics',
it is important to mention that the product name was a registered trademark of
the Catalin Corporation in
connection with the designer names it is interesting also to observe that David
C. Rockola, the president of the Rock-Ola
Manufacturing Corporation, assigned all design patents to the company. No other
top manager in the early forties was a designer, as far as the editor
knows. One of the other important industrial designers was the engineer Lloyd
J. Andres, who worked near the top of AMI together with engineer Clifford H.
Green. The two engineers had been authorized by the management to develop a new
line of improved coin-op phonographs after the depression. Lloyd J. Andres has
not previously been mentioned, as he deserves, in the literature about jukebox
history. His first patented full size jukebox design of 1937 got the official
name AMI Top Flight, but he had prior to that designed the casing for a
special remote control selector in 1936. Later he also designed most of the
interesting AMI Singing Tower models in the early forties. However, it
ought to be mentioned that Henry T. Roberts, who normally worked for the J. P. Seeburg Corporation, assigned one remarkable
J. P. Seeburg Corporation seriously introduced
transparent plastics in the cabinets in 1938, as mentioned before, and also
other new design effects like for example the use of nickel-plated castings had
a certain influence on the marketing possibilities. The nickel-plated parts of
the models from The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, especially of the models Wurlitzer
500, 600 and the counter-top model 61, and the introduction
of colour cylinders in model 500, made the Wurlitzer jukeboxes very
popular. Now it was not only a matter of an illuminated jukebox, but the idea
of changing colours had come to stay. The other big manufacturing companies had
to find new ways in order to compete, and as an example the Rock-Ola
Manufacturing Corporation used big areas of catalin-plastics
in the models Rock-Ola Standard 20 and Deluxe 20 of 1939, and the
year after in all models Rock-Ola Master 20 and Super 20 Luxury Lightup. Another competitor, the Mills Novelty Company
special version of jukeboxes to be used in small locations, often called
counter-top or miniature jukeboxes, was a well-known type around 1938/39, and
the leading manufacturer, The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, marketed until 1941/42
the nice models Wurlitzer 41, 51, 61, 71, and 81.
The Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation had to compete with them only the model Rock-Ola
CM-39 of 1939 and later in 1941 the model Rock-Ola 1409, also called
JR-12. There were a few others of the same type on the market, but as a phenomenon they had no chance to
compete with the hide-away units connected to remote controls, which were
introduced for real in 1939 by the Automatic Musical Instruments Company in the
form of Mighty Midget units, and in the form of Wall-O-Matic and Bar-O-Matic
remote controls produced by the J. P. Seeburg
Corporation. The small counter-top jukeboxes could not survive the hey-days of
design and the competition during the years 1940-42, but the hide-away units
did survive because they could be used in very small locations in the big
cities. The impressive AMI Singing Tower models also survived during the
war, operated by an affiliation of AMI, Singing Towers Inc. in
the year 1940 the hey-days of design really started with the full-size models Wurlitzer
700 and 800, and the counter-top model Wurlitzer 41 made by
the company in
At the J. P. Seeburg Corporation, the designers choose not to use extreme visual effects, but some unique automatic phonographs were manufactured in 1940. The Square Top series, namely Seeburg Cadet, Commander, and Concert Master (nicknamed Faces) with matching Seeburg Top Spot speaker unit, was indeed something special, but unfortunately that series with Rainbo-Glo illumination was not design patented. However, it is possible that Nels A. Miller was responsible for the Square Top series. The year before Henry T. Roberts designed and patented nearly all models with Marbl-Glo illumination for the company, but there are so distinct differences in details, that it seems correct to assume that Nels A. Miller designed the model line of 1940. Henry T. Roberts also design patented the following Hitone Symphonola series of 1941/42 equipped with the new sliding-tray mechanism invented by Carl Freborg. The sales department at Seeburg dubbed this model their Minute Man model to promote the sale of defence bonds. After the Hitone series the production was stopped for a short period until after the war, when the new and interesting Trash Can models were design patented by Nels A. Miller, as mentioned before.
The model line of the years 1941/42 from the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation shows some of the most remarkable cabinets of the Golden Age, the ToneColumn series, which in fact represented big combined remote control and speaker units. The today well-known representative of the series was Rock-Ola Spectravox 1801/1802 with a dial instead of push buttons. All ToneColumn models with selector unit could be used in connection with the newly introduced Playmaster hide-away mechanism. During the war year 1942 before the factory production stopped the models Rock-Ola Commando, Premier 1413 and President 1414 with top speaker unit made by the American Jensen company, were made in limited numbers. They were a natural continuation of the ToneColumn principle, but they now had a complete mechanism and amplifier in the lower part of the cabinet. The Rock-Ola Commando was the basic model built in two variations, the common one using glass panels and the other using catalin-plastics, and the Premier 1413 and President 1414 were only made in very limited numbers. Caused by war restrictions the limited series had glass pilastres, and maybe due to the size and the fact that they did not look like ordinary jukeboxes with push buttons they were never considered a real success among operators. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note from the indication of the design patents, sound reproducing apparatus, that they were not meant for built-in mechanisms in the first place. The following production obviously went in another direction, and it is also confusing that David C. Rockola a few years later used the same indication sound reproducing apparatus for two design patents for the Rock-Ola 1420 series.
In 1941 there were at least five totally unknown design patents by David C. Rockola for ToneColumn auxiliary speakers without selector units, but they were most probably never produced. The Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation had after that, like the other big companies in the business, a period of three or four years where no new models were produced.
Considering the line of jukeboxes from The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company made during the years before the war stop between 1943 and 1945 one can easily get the impression that nothing could stop the Paul M. Fuller team from making nice play appealing models. The team was in fact way ahead of the other designer teams in the business, and it is surprising that Paul M. Fuller never design patented the Victory line models: the Wurlitzer 750, the Wurlitzer 780 also called Wagon Wheel, the Wurlitzer 850 generally known as the Peacock, and finally the Wurlitzer 950 of 1942 often referred to as Pipes of Pan, which was the last in direct series. The company celebrated the National Wurlitzer Days, the 5th and 6th January, 1941, by introducing the Victory line of three console and two counter-top models (750, 780, 850, 41, and 81). However, the war took longer than expected and the model 950 was not referred to as part of the Victory line. It is interesting that the previous models Wurlitzer 700 and 800 of 1940 were not design patented, and also that the same can be said about the successive model in colonial style officially named Victory by the company. It may therefore be reasonable to assume that the models made in those few years in the early forties at The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company were designed by the team at the factory and not by one particular person (Paul M. Fuller did not want to take all the credit), although it is stated once by general sales manager Milton G. Hammergren in "The Billboard" magazine that the Victory line was designed by Paul M. Fuller.
A new detail in the design of the Wurlitzer 850 was that it had illuminated push buttons that turned dark when selection had been made. The feature in question was not quite easy to combine with another operational detail, namely the electric selection mechanism. In the earlier years of mechanical selection the customers could see which records had been selected, and therefore they avoided selecting the same record again. With the new electric selection mechanism the same record could be selected several times, but normally only played once. In short, the new electric selector gave the operator(s) an opportunity to earn more due to the motto that the customer would be satisfied if only he heard the tune he had paid for. The Wurlitzer 750 was the first jukebox from the company with an electric selection mechanism. The last model in the series, the Wurlitzer 950 of 1942, was originally produced with glass pilastres and not as the previous models with catalin-plastics, and the use of many wooden parts in the cabinet combined with a very limited production number makes it very popular among collectors today.
As mentioned before there was a production stop among jukebox manufacturers in the years from 1943 until 1945/46 mainly due to lack of metal and other material, and a few of the factories built military equipment instead of music machines. Another reason was of course that jukeboxes were 'non-important' products officially during the armament, and thus it was necessary to wait until autumn 1945 before new design patents could see the light of day.
the war, towards the end of the golden era, all four big companies and a few
others introduced new cabinet types for automatic phonographs, and Paul M.
Fuller again had several cabinet designs patented and assigned to The Rudolph
Wurlitzer Company, which was still the leading firm in the business. The
post-war models were produced in large numbers followed by very effective
marketing, and the models in mind were of course the famous Wurlitzer 1015,
the following model 1080 and finally the Wurlitzer 1100 with a
well designed Encore program selector. The last of the three models
was nicknamed Bullet or Bomber Nose by the public, and all
three models were design patented by Paul M. Fuller in the period 1946 until
1948. With direct reference to the Wurlitzer 1015 design there was a
special cabinet named Ambassador to be produced in 1948 by a small firm
the period 1946 until 1948 the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corporation produced
three cabinet types: the Rock-Ola 1422, the 1426, and finally the
1428 also named Magic-Glo, and there
are in fact three design patents related to that series, all officially made by
David C. Rockola. Two of them can be related directly
to the models Rock-Ola 1422 and 1428, but the last of the three
relates to details on both the 1422 and the
The last of the four big companies, the J. P. Seeburg Corporation, produced as mentioned earlier three Trash Can models designed by Nels A. Miller in the period 1946 until 1948. Nels A. Miller and the all aluminum Symphonola P- boxes led the company to the end of the Golden Age. The era ended in fact with the well-known Mahlon W. Kenney styled Seeburg M-100-A with Select-O-Matic mechanism invented by Edward F. Andrews around 1941. The new model was introduced in 1948/49 as the first jukebox with 100 selections in 78rpm, but many of the M-100-A's were in fact converted to play 45rpm records in the years to come. In connection with the use of 78rpm vs. 45rpm format in jukeboxes it is rather interesting to note the comments sent to the editor by Morgan Wright, who wrote the following facts: "...Black people preferred the 78rpm format until the late 50's even in their jukeboxes, because they were living in poverty, and when the 78rpm jukeboxes in white neighborhoods were being replaced by 45rpm jukeboxes, the operators (all of whom were white) had to use the old 78rpm jukeboxes for something. They couldn't just throw them away, so they stuck them in black neighborhoods and also hillbilly juke-joints, while the people with money used the 45rpm jukeboxes. One will notice that many R&B and C&W records were still being pressed in 78rpm until as late as 1957-58, but it's very rare to find 78rpm recordings of popular white 'pop' music later than 1952-53...". Those are, whether we like it or not, true and interesting historic comments.
A rather special phenomenon in the history of jukeboxes was remote control via telephone lines, or more correctly music ordering via phone. The idea of big central music libraries was not something new as there had been such libraries in the early years of the 20th century, but they had not been connected to restaurants, saloons, or diners. In the forties several music ordering systems were used around in America, for example the Rock-Ola Mystic Music, the Jennings Telephone Music first known as Magic Music in Columbus, Ohio, the Scotto Melody Master mainly used in Sacramento, California, and not to forget the Shyvers' Multiphone system designed, introduced, and operated for more than a decade by Kenneth C. Shyvers, and his wife Lois, in the cities Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma, in Washington.
line in the jukebox history led to the big audio/visual machines, which mainly
the Mills Novelty Company of
Towards the end of this short American design history some manufacturer and designer names, that had a certain importance, ought to be mentioned. At the end of the war a company that originally made radar equipment and electronics went into the jukebox business. The first jukebox series from the Aireon Manufacturing Corporation headed by Randolph C. Walker was designed and patented by Ernest F. Thomson in 1946. The box was officially named Aireon Super De Luxe, but also nicknamed Airliner because of the size. The following Aireon Fiesta series was also design patented by Ernest F. Thomson, and the auxiliary speakers, the Impressario, the Melodeon, and the Carilleon, were all designed by Jay B. Doblin. All patents were assigned to the independent federal agency Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which had become responsible for the production of Aireon coin-op phonographs due to financial difficulties in the Aireon Manufacturing Corporation founded in 1937. The following phonograph model of 1948 officially named Aireon Coronet was unfortunately not design patented, but it is possible that the design of the cabinet is part of a functional patent. However, this particular patent has not been located yet.
production shortly after the war was the Packard line made by the
Packard Manufacturing Company (founded in 1932 and named after
FP-300 Maestro was another jukebox of the post-war golden era, which today
is reckoned to be something special by enthusiasts. The first models with the
official name Filben (mechanism based on the original
patent filed on the 15th July, 1937, by William Michael Filben)
were made according to a license contract of September 1938 with the Rock-Ola
Manufacturing Corporation, but unfortunately William Michael Filben died on the 1st May, 1940, without any company name
officially registered. The rights under the license contract, however, were
then vested in his widow, Berniece M. Filben, and in three minor daughters (Patricia, Rosemary,
and Dolores). Later the widow assigned all rights to the newly constructed Filben Manufacturing Co. against 51% of the shares, and the
production of automatic phonographs was carried out by the co-owner of the
company, Leonard E. Baskfield (49% of the shares).
The actual production of the mechanisms and cabinets took place at Batavia
Metal Products Inc. according to a contract stating that an initial amount of
10,000 such phonographs should be produced. The contract also provided for
re-designing of the cabinet at the expense of Batavia Metal Products Inc., and
the distribution of all Filben phonographs, including
the Mirrocle Music line with
stow-a-way unit FM-S2, was carried out by the U.S. Challenge Co. in
One of the last important jukebox productions of the Golden Age took place at the Mills Novelty Company, also known as Mills Industries Incorporated in the late forties. The firm is mentioned previously, also in connection with audio/visual machines, but after the war the production of ordinary jukeboxes went on with the Mills Constellation models. The mechanism used in the last series of Mills phonographs was developed by the team headed by the technical director John P. (Midge) Ryan, and the cabinet for the Constellation was designed by the noted industrial designer Walter Lockwood Martling Jr., who was also responsible for some remarkable drafts for Mills speakers and remote controls in 1946/47. Finally, after the phonograph division of Mills Industries Inc. had been taken over by the H. C. Evans Company, the Constellation model was produced in two versions, models 950 and 951, of which the model 951 had a fully visible mechanism.
It is still possible to locate new jukebox related patents, but all the known American design patents of the Golden Age were published for the first time in the editor's book entitled "Golden Age Juke-Box Design 1934-1951". The book was printed in 1994 (limited edition).
Gert J. Almind