THE EARLY YEARS: 1870S TO 1910S
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It may not surprise you to know that the earliest
incarnations of jukeboxes weren’t called jukeboxes. Those early models were
instead known as Automatic Coin-Operated Phonographs, or Automatic Phonographs,
or Coin Operated Phonographs. Certainly, doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as
well, does it? The term jukebox didn’t appear in our lexicon until the 1930s or
so. Around fifty years before that, the man to create the first phonograph was
none of than one Thomas Alva Edison; America’s greatest inventor. Not that he
had particularly big plans for his machine; in fact, he thought it would be put
to best use as an aid for office dictation.
Luckily, the world had other ideas. Fast forward to 1890;
Louis Glass and William S Arnold has modified an Edison Class M Electric
Phonograph with a coin mechanism, making it the world’s first nickel in the
slot phonograph. It had no speakers; patrons had to listen to the music using
one of four listening tubes. The machine-made $1000 in its first six months of
service – a lot of money back then!
Most of the coin-operated phonographs that followed were
only capable of playing one record. However, in 1906, the John Gabel
Manufacturing Company produced the first automatic multi-selection coin-op
phonograph, which allowed patrons to choose up to 24 songs. Twelve years,
Hobart C Niblack patented a device that could change records automatically. It
was a vital step in the development of the jukebox as we know it today
AMIDST THE ROARING TWENTIES, JUKEBOXES SING
That mechanism played a key role in the birth of one of the
first selective jukeboxes ever, which was debuted in 1927 by the Automated
Musical Instrument Company (which eventually became AMI). This broadly
coincided with the introduction of electronically recorded music; another
important step in jukebox evolution.
With all these new additions, jukeboxes becoming prominent
vehicles for some truly remarkable technology for the age. It made them prime
choices during the Great Depression when many people began looking for
inexpensive forms of entertainment. This is where our founder, David C Rockola,
made his first foray into the jukebox world. Having already made quite the name
for himself with pinball tables and similar devices, he bought a mechanism from
an acquaintance named Smythe and re-engineered it to form the basis for his own
machines. The company would go on to find almost unprecedented success,
ultimately taking its place amongst the Big Four of jukebox manufacturing,
joining the likes of Wurlitzer, Seeburg, and the American Musical Instrument
Company (commonly known as AMI).
By this time, listening to jukeboxes was quickly becoming
the new thing for much of contemporary America. The revolution was beginning to
take off. It’s where, incidentally, the term jukebox first arose, although its
etymology is disputed.
THE 1940S – THE GOLDEN AGE BEGINS
The post-war years marked a meteoric rise in popularity for
jukeboxes, and it’s not hard to see why. With their vibrant colors and
all-encompassing sound, jukeboxes were the perfect encapsulation of jubilant
celebration, of euphoria and joie de vivre. They certainly made welcome sights
for the survivors of the war. Exhausted by years of global chaos and turmoil,
they were ready to start truly living again.
And live they did. By the middle of the 1940s, it’s
estimated that as many as ¾ of records produced in America went straight into
jukeboxes, and their Golden Age had begun. With revolutionary new designs,
bright colors and decorations, the 40s also saw some brilliant new innovations.
It was during this time that Rock-Ola debuted the wall box systems, which could
be used in conjunction with the full-sized jukeboxes.
And of course, what holds true for modern films and music
also holds true for jukeboxes; namely, that a little bit of controversy never
did sales any harm. Parents thought that swing and jazz music was a
particularly bad influence on their children and directed some of their ire at
the machines. Predictably, this only made them even more popular amongst rebellious
teenagers, especially since they were so often housed in dive bars and
low-class establishments – the perfect place to meet the bad boys your mother
In 1948, another revolution hit, in the form of the 45rpm
record, which changed the face of the jukebox industry.
THE 1950S – THE GOLDEN AGE OF JUKEBOXES, AND DAWNING SILVER
The 1950s are universally considered to be the global height
of jukebox popularity, and there was hardly a diner or bar across the United
States that would be seen without one. As far as the owners were concerned,
they made good business sense. After all, live bands were expensive, and
jukeboxes were cheap to operate and maintain while drawing huge crowds to their
stunning visuals and sound.
The rise of the classic American diner is thought to have
helped cultivate the super-cool image of contemporary jukeboxes in the 1950s.
With their Formica tables, chrome, plush leather, and neon signs, they
complemented the jukebox aesthetic perfectly. It’s easy to see why the Bubbler
designs were common sights – with their effortless blend of beauty and
sophistication, but also fun and vibrancy, they were the natural choice for
music in these ultra-hip venues. (Certainly, artists like Elvis and Buddy
Holly, and the rapid rise of rock and roll music didn’t hurt either.)
It was also during this period when jukeboxes started to see
some of the most fascinating and sought-after designs ever created. The
machines became ever showier and elaborate, with glinting silver finishes,
chrome tailfins and front grilles – design features which are often seen as
echoing the designs of popular contemporary automobiles. (Even today, many
jukeboxes we stock here at Rock-Ola are strongly influenced by classic American
culture – just look at our Harley Davidson Bubbler or our timeless Coca Cola
Some music historians believe that 1950 marked the start of
the Silver Age of jukeboxes, but like many such ideas, this is hotly disputed,
and the definition changes depending on who you ask. What’s undeniable, though,
is the advances made in that time. Not just with the designs, but also the
technology; 100 titles became the new standard, a far cry from the single
selection available just half a century ago!
THE MODERN FACE OF JUKEBOXES
The white-hot popularity of jukeboxes started to cool
towards the 1970s, and even the Big Four started to scale down their
operations. Now, we have music devices small enough to fit in the palm of your
hand, with potentially thousands of song choices. But even with the invention
of MP3 players and iPads, the classic Bubbler jukebox has not been relegated to
history. With its curved top, entrancing colors and pristine oak exterior, the
Bubbler has become an icon that defines an era – a true piece of modern
Today, many of the old manufacturers have entirely gone out
of business or survive through subsidiaries. Now, we here at Rock-Ola are proud
to be the world’s only manufacturer of the authentic American jukebox. Recently
acquired by British entrepreneur Alexander Walder Smith, we’ve still got big
plans for our jukeboxes as we take them to the next phase of history. Over the
last few years, we’ve adapted our designs with modern technology such as CD
players and Sonos connectivity.
Additionally, ROCK-OLA currently makes 27 different style
jukeboxes in which consists of the HIGH-TECH digital downloadable MUSIC CENTER,
the 100 CD playing jukebox, and for you audio-files and those who appreciate
the nostalgic sound od a record, they product the vinyl 45 record playing
Now, one can see why we at IN THE NEW AGE were so excited to
obtain an authorized dealership from ROCK-OLA.