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Jukebox Journal

Updated on November 20, 2014
Jukebox Junkie?
Jukebox Junkie?

The Journey of the JUKEBOX!

Welcome Jukebox Junkies to the journey of the jukebox through US history. Jukeboxes had their heyday in the 1950s with styles from Wurlitzer, AMI, Rock Ola, Seeburg and Crosley .

The term "juke box" came into use in the USA around 1940. The term jukebox is said to have come from the slang term for dance "Jook" popular in the early twentieth century, and from that came the "Jook joints" popular in that era.

During the 1950s teenagers would gather at 'juke joints' to listen to their favorite tunes.These were informal public houses that featured live music (usually early blues) and alcohol. The original origin of the word 'juke' is also said to be derived from an African word meaning 'disorderly, rowdy, or wicked'...no surprise they were so popular among teens.

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Impact of the Juke Box on American Pop Culture

The jukebox was an essential piece of technology in American popular culture. Jukebox recorded music allowed people all over the country access to the same music, beginning with the swing jazz of the WWII era, through the Hit Parade, all the way up to 1960s psychedelic rock.

Jukeboxes were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, but were particularly popular during the 1950s in the US. Today they are most often associated with early rock and roll music, but jukeboxes were very popular in the swing music era as well.

Dick Clark was fond of claiming that 'music provides the soundtrack to our lives as modern Americans.' Music does have a way of capturing our minds and our imaginations and whisking us back to people and places of the past.

The jukebox symbolizes much more than bygone eras of music, technology, and fashion and they are much more than cultural relics. The preservation of jukeboxes is the preservation of American popular culture, whether it is a vintage Wurlitzer 1015 or a brand-new digital model with the capability of storing and playing thousands of songs.

American popular culture of the twentieth century has had a profound influence over the hearts and minds of people all over the world. The juke box is central to that influence. American-made jukeboxes brought the sounds of Louis Armstrong, Elvis, Glenn Miller, Chuck Berry and The Beatles to audiences the world over.

Over a Century of Jukebox History - The first jukebox appeared during the 1890's and remain very popular in the US today.

  • OVERVIEW

    Jukeboxes and their ancestors were a very profitable industry from the 1890s on. They were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. Today they are often associated with early rock and roll music, but were very popular in the swing music era as well. As a result, jukeboxes can be found today in many stores and restaurants with a retro theme.

  • THE EARLY YEARS

    The first jukeboxes were simply wooden boxes with coin slots and a few buttons and played only 78-rpm records. Later models appeared more and more decorated, using color lights, rotating lights, chrome, bubble tubes, ceiling lamps, and other visual effects. The 1940s to be the "golden age" of jukebox styling. The first model manufactured after WWII was produced by AMI and affectionately referred to as the "Mother of Plastic". It featured large areas of opalescent plastics and colored gemstones. Other styling progressed from the plain wooden boxes in the early thirties to beautiful light shows with marbelized plastic and color animation in the Wurlitzer 850 Peacock of 1941. The Wurlitzer model "1015-Bubbler" is another example of that look and is considered by many to be the most popular jukebox of all time.

  • THE EFFECT OF THE WAR

    World War II prevented jukebox production from expanding. Jukeboxes were considered "nonessential" during the war and very few were produced until 1946. Those jukeboxes that were were still produced were primarily made of wood and glass since metal and plastic were needed for the war effort. At the end of the war, jukebox production resumed. Many of these survived into the '50s in active use. They tend to be associated with the '50s in pop culture despite their '40s origin because of their unique visual prominence and production volume. Designed by stylist Paul Fuller, it is rumored that when entertainment equipment factories were redirected toward the war effort, Paul had more time to focus on aesthetic design. This extra time resulted in one of the greatest designs in iconic pop culture.

  • THE 1940s AND 1950s

    After the '40s, the styles generally became much more "high-tech" in look. The styles were strikingly different from "classic" influences such as ancient Greek, renaissance, and Gothic motifs found in the '40s models. Jukeboxes from the late 1940s are called Golden Age because of the yellow catalin plastic. Jukeboxes from the 1950s are called Silver Age because of the very predominant chrome styling.

  • MOST POPULAR JUKEBOX MODELS

    By far the most popular model would likely be considered the Wurlitzer. Other jukebox models made in the USA would include Seebring, AMI, and Rock Ola. An interesting note about the Rock Ola: Many people guessed that this name was derived from a combination of rock and victrola, however that is not true. "Rock-Ola" is actually based on the name of the company founder, David Cullen Rockola. Rock-ola was founded many years before the term "Rock" was applied to music at all.

  • MODERN DAY JUKEBOXES

    Starting in the 1980s, CDs or compact discs became the norm for modern jukeboxes. Several companies started introducing completely digital jukeboxes which did not use physical recordings toward the end of the 20th century. Later the music selection and playback system was replaced by a dedicated computer, and did not require CDs at all. A selection of songs (a playlist) can be chosen suitable to the venue where the jukebox is located. They are generally cached in the local storage of the machine. The true advantage of this design is the seemingly endless selection of music that is available instantly to the customer by automatic download from an internet connection.

History of the AMI Jukebox

Automatic player pianos from AMI were the seed that grew into the invention of the jukebox.

The National Automatic Music Company (AMI) was founded in 1909 as a producer of automatic player pianos, and this was also the root of the AMI Jukebox.. The player pianos used vinyl music rolls similar to those used in early coin-slot phonographs, and later developed the technology to put multiple music rolls into their player pianos. In 1927, the same player piano technology was adapted and for use in creating the first AMI jukebox.

Early AMI jukeboxes were very influential because they were able to play both sides of the 78-rpm records. This technology was used for nearly three decades with the only changes being in the form of increased capacity.

AMI was known for popular architectural styles of its time to create the aesthetic feel of their jukebox creations. The "Top Flight" model, an art deco design produced in 1936 and 1937, reminds one of early New York City skyscrapers. AMI even produced a jukebox called "Singing Towers," which was topped with lights similar to those atop a skyscraper and new technology allowed the lights to change color as the music played.

AMI continued to be influential in the design of jukeboxes right through the Golden Age of jukeboxes in the 1950s as they continued to borrow styles from fields of design. For example, AMI modeled 1957's Model H jukebox after popular automobile styles of the time, complete with chrome bumpers. Another example is the The Continental jukebox of the early 1960s which exploited the "Mod" fad of the time.

Wurlitzer Jukebox History in the US

Wurlitzer wasn't the first jukebox, but many call it their #1 favorite.

The Wurlitzer Company was originally founded in 1856 by Rudolph Wurlitzer in Cincinnati, Ohio. However the famous Wurlitzer jukebox business didn't begin until Farny Wurlitzer purchased a jukebox patent in 1933. Then by the late 1930s, the Wurlitzer Company was producing 45,000 jukeboxes a year.

The single name "Wurlitzer" has been used by itself to refer to organs or pianos, yet its most common usage is as a reference to the jukebox. The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company is a now-defunct company (the corporate name, Wurlitzer, still exists under the ownership of the Gibson Guitar Company) that once produced theater organs, electric pianos, and jukeboxes.

After the war, the jukebox that had once looked like a work of ornately carved wood now appeared as a futuristic light and music show with the Wurlitzer 1015. The most recognizable and aesthetic feature of the 1015 is the colored bubble tubes that arched over the top of the unit.

Another new and aesthetic feature was the visibility of the record-changing mechanism. As a patron drops a coin into the slot and makes a selection, they could look through a window on the front of the unit and see the record being played.

Thanks to such innovative designs during the Golden Age of jukeboxes, Wurlitzer Jukeboxes remain highly sought-after collector's items to this day. Many replica models of vintage jukeboxes are now available and the Wurlitzer name still thrives under the Gibson Guitar Company.

Historic Highlights of Seebring Jukeboxes

If you watched 'Happy Days' and loved 'the Fonz' then maybe you saw a Seebring jukebox on that show.

No discussion of jukeboxes would ever be complete without the mention of "Happy Days" icon Arthur Fonzarelli, aka The Fonz. The Fonz was so cool that he could play his favorite tune on the jukebox simply by striking it with his fist. The jukebox used in that 1950s "Happy Days" nostalgia was a Seeburg.

The Seeburg Company was known for innovation in technology and style. As such, Seeburg was very influential in creating the style of jukeboxes during their heyday in the middle of the twentieth century. The Seeburg Company created the first jukebox that used 45-rpm records exclusively. Also, when jukeboxes were using only 78-rpm records, the Seeburg Company released a model that could play a maximum of 50 albums on both sides, giving users a selection of 100 songs. At that time, 100 songs was a VERY staggering amount for a jukebox.

The photo above right shows this Seebring 100 model. Another innovation from the same era was the Seeburg 3W1 wallbox, one of the first, and certainly the most famous wallbox. See a photo and learn more about the wallbox below.

The Wallbox was Key to Jukebox History

Wallboxes were invented for customer convenience, sort of a jukebox remote control that could be operated while sitting at your table in a restaurant.

Wallboxes such as the Seebring model in the photo at right were an important part of jukebox history. The wall model allowed individuals to select tunes from their table or booth by remote control and send them to the central machine. Stereo sound became popular in the early 1960s, and wallboxes of that era were designed with built-in speakers to provide patrons a sample of this latest technology.

The wallbox was not technically a jukebox at all, yet important as a precursor to the jukebox. The Seebring wallbox was a remote unit, usually located at each table of the diner. Patrons could pay for songs to be played on the central jukebox. The wallboxes were extremely popular as they were very fun and convenient for customers, and lucrative for the proprietors of diners and malt shops.

Wallboxes were easy and convenient for customers seated at tables. Proprietors loved the wallboxes because they allowed different customers to pay for the same song, increasing the overall revenue brought in by the jukeboxes.

Known for marrying cutting-edge technology with the looks of yesteryear, CROSLEY is a leader in manufacturing electronic jukebox replicas with modern-day functions. See a few popular Crosley replica models below.

Crosley Jukebox CD Player/Radio CR11CD - Modern Jukebox Replica

The fabulous 50s are back with a modern update! This Crosley Diner Jukebox packs AM/FM radio and CD functions into a classic jukebox style that will entertain in a modern way while keeping nostalgia alive.

Crosley CR11CD Jukebox has a front-loading CD player with LED display, AM/FM radio with illuminated analog tuner; programmable 20-track memory and repeat play; dynamic full-range speakers for rich sound that really brings your music to life; decorative musical playlist; Wall mountable; Internal FM antenna for smooth looks; Approx. 19 x 18 x 13 1/4" and 10 lbs.;

Crosley iJuke Mini Jukebox CR1702A - The iJuke is a mini jukebox replica that sits on a table, same retro design on the outside with the latest technology insid

Crosley has married your legendary classic jukebox with the modern-day technology of today to create the iJuke. The iJuke is a real treat for the eyes and ears and is sure to become an instant household favorite. The iJuke allows you to connect your iPod and add hours of listening pleasure to your jukebox experience in any environment.

Connects to iPod, plays CDs AND and shines with neon and bubble light tubes!

The dynamic full range stereo speaker compliments the small but powerful iPod-enhanced jukebox. And for some extra eye candy the iJuke comes complete with authentic neon lighting and percolating bubble tubes to really get you rockin' and rollin'. This machine looks SO cool with the lights out!

Retro Full Size Jukebox with Features Galore - The Crosley 12-2 iJukebox

Retro Crosley Full-size Jukebox with MP3 Hookup. Full-size Jukebox comes with AM/FM radio, digital tuner and a CD player that also reads the MP3 digital file format! And color-shifting LED lights enhance the look and feel of this classic showstopper. AM/FM radio with digital tuner; Dynamic 2-speaker stereo system; CD player also reads MP3 digital file format; LCD display; Programmable 20-track memory; Random play and repeat play functions; Decorative musical play list; Color-shifting LED accent lighting;

External speaker outputs; BBS bass enhancer for true bass sound; EQ presets; Full-function remote control; Auxiliary inputs; Measures 25 1/2 x 41 x 13 1/2" deep. Rock around the clock! Ensure happy days, and order today!

* iPod Dock

* AM/FM Radio

* CD Player

* MP3 Compatible

* Full Size

Full Size Deluxe Modern Wurlitzer - 'One More Time' Model 1015

If you prefer a full size version, this deluxe reproduction of the 1015 model Wurlitzer is the item to see!

Nostalgic Ambiance!


The Wurlitzer One More Time CD Jukebox has that popular retro style of the original jukebox, but with ultra modern technology.

This vintage modern design is truly unique in a 'Back To The Future' classic style.

"Juke boxes need an option where you can pay extra to veto someone else's sh*tty selection."

— Stand up comic Kelly MacLean

What's YOUR favorite jukebox memory?

Join the jukebox discussion below.

Are YOU a Jukebox Hero? - Jukebox Junkies...Shout Out!

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    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 7 years ago

      Oh this is so cool. They are most definitely a part of American culture. Great lens.5*

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Great Lens! I never gave much thought to Jukeboxes before. I just took them for granted.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Wow! awesome lens! angel blessed!

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 7 years ago from Chicago area

      What a terrific idea for a lens, and you did a fabulous job putting this together! 5*

    • profile image

      SandAndPalms 7 years ago

      Enjoyed reading this detailed jukebox lens. Jukeboxes have now entered the digital age.

      Yes I'm a jukebook hero. I'm also a recording artist and my songs are on 60,000+ digital jukeboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

      I have 61 original songs and instruments on TouchTunes, Rowe-AMI, and Rock-Ola digital jukeboxes located inside restaurant chains, bowling centers, and indie mom and pop bars, pubs, saloons, and taverns.

      Jimmie Vestal

      Sand and Palms Productions

      Sand and Palms Music

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      I remember playing the jukebox at Jumbo restaurant, a local teen hang out! Memories...

    • profile image

      RebeccaE 6 years ago

      one deligtful lens, we had an oldjukebox at a restaurant once, but memories have it, the dinner is now a mcdonalds... sigh!

    • mariaamoroso profile image

      irenemaria 6 years ago from Sweden

      When I was a teenager, we had a favourite café were we spent money on tea and the jukebox. We took turn to order one cup of tea because we were quite poor =) The music was much more important! Little Dipper played by Mickey Mozart. I never found it again.

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 5 years ago from Texas

      Great Juke Box history. I've had a Rock -ola since the 80's and love it!

    • profile image

      mediawizard lm 5 years ago

      In the 60's I loved to select music from the Wurlitzer 2000 jukeboxes

    • Not-Pop profile image

      Not-Pop 5 years ago

      I adore jukeboxes. I have a little Crosley 1015 model, with bubblers and all, until I win the lottery and can get a real one.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The Wurlitzer is what I remember most from the 50's and 60's, I used to love paging through all the songs and watching the records change. I also remember being fascinated by the wall boxes at a cafe in International Falls and always wanted to sit on the inside.

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