Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Info Freako | 5 March 1994

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JUKEBOX
SLIPPING DISCS

 
I know this might seem like a weird one, but could you please print a brief history of the jukebox? Who invented it? When and where was the first machine installed?
Sandra Greaves, Twickenham
 
The history of the jukebox begins way back in 1877, with Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph, the primitive version of the record player. Edison was so excited by the machine that he temporarily suspended his work on the first incandescent lamp, the invention for which he is now best known.

Edison sold his phonograph blueprint for $10,000 a couple of years later and subsequently denounced the use of the machine for entertainment. He said it had been designed to record and play voices rather than music, and was furious when Louie Glass installed the first coin-operated phonograph at the Palais Royal in San Francisco in 1889. This had four listening tubes which were placed to the ear to hear the chosen disc.

The jukebox as we now know it was developed during the late 1920s by Homer Capehart, a designer at Wurlitzer, the organ manufacturers. By 1937, the American company were making 40,000 jukeboxes a year. Their Wurlitzer 1015 is the most popular model ever. Other early jukebox manufacturers included Rock-Ola and Seeburg, who came up with the M100A, the first machine to play records vertically, in 1948.

RCA started producing 45rpm seven-inch records, the size of which were ideally suited to jukeboxes, at around the same time that the M100A appeared on the market. There were no other notable alterations to the basic design of machines until the advent of video jukeboxes in the early 1980s and of CD jukeboxes three or four years ago. A German company called NSM currently have the largest share of the market, with Wurlitzer and Seeburg close behind.

One final point of interest is the suggestion that the term "rock 'n' roll" was originally used by young black kids who gathered to hear the latest records in the juke joints of the southern states of America during the early 1950s. Prior to this, rock 'n' roll had been a slang phrase for sex.

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