Jukebox History 1888-1913
years the music machines for public entertainment have been around for more
than a century. The first steps to make the modern electrically amplified
multi-selection phonographs possible were taken in the late 1880's in
The very early European and American history of the phonograph is still not quite elucidated, as new information concerning the pioneers Léon Scott de Martinville, Charles Cros, Thomas Alva Edison, and especially Frank Lambert, has been found recently. However, the first important name connected to the cylinder phonographs was Thomas Alva Edison, who applied for a patent for a "Phonograph or Speaking Machine" in 1877. That particular invention became the basis of the first American automatic music machines with coin slots called 'nickel-in-the-slot machines'. The concept of inserting a coin in order to listen to music from an automatic or semiautomatic cylinder or disc playing machine forms the actual basis of the term 'jukebox'.
invention of the same era as that of the first coin-op phonographs became
rather important for the further development of stable machines for public use.
The invention was of course the disc-record as we know it today invented by
Emile Berliner and patented in 1888. Both cylinder and disc playing mechanisms
were soon fitted with patented coin slot attachments in
The official birthday of the jukebox is the 23rd November, 1889; - the day of the first public demonstration of a coin-op phonograph in the Palais Royal Restaurant at 303 Sutter Street in San Francisco. The operator was Louis Glass, general manager of the Pacific Phonograph Company at 323 Pine Street two blocks away, and he had together with his business partner William S. Arnold been permitted by the proprietor, Fredric Mergenthaler, to demonstrate the nickel-in-the-slot machine in the restaurant. Today Louis Glass alone is often regarded as the inventor of the jukebox concept. The noted historian Dick Bueschel tried to find information about the Palais Royal in San Francisco, but without success. The fact that there is very little information available today is quite easy to understand, as the Earthquake on the 18th April, 1906, levelled the area around Sutter Street and Pine Street in the center of San Francisco. After that the only reliable records of a saloon or restaurant on the spot can be found in old copies of the "San Francisco Chronicle", and in a City Directory of 1890 discovered by the historian Allen Koenigsberg in Brooklyn, New York.
connection with the two American patents for "Coin Actuated Attachment
for Phonographs" (cylinder) and "Coin Actuating Attachment for
Phonographs" (disc) applied for in 1889 by Louis Glass and William S.
Arnold it is also important to note the British patent for a complete
coin-operated "Automatic Pariophone"
applied for in 1888 by Charles Adams-Randall. Today it is difficult to find
out, whether the Pariophone was demonstrated
to the public in
the first year of the jukebox, from autumn 1889 until summer 1890, quite a few
coin-op music machines with cylinder or disc mechanisms were produced in
From the start there was an acceptance of the phenomenon and an understanding among operators and saloon owners. The mutual understanding was easy to notice, because the operators often recorded a request like 'go to the bar and buy yourself a drink' at the end of each cylinder. The financial advantage was certainly greater than the costs of running a phonograph, and especially the operators were happy to get another source of income and prosperity.
gives food for thought that the United States Patent Office had registered 18
patents for coin attachments for phonographs, which might have been in conflict
in 1891 (only three years after the first machine had seen the light of day).
The number of patents pending in those early years show the operators' eager to
gain a foothold on the new market. However, it has to be mentioned that about
1/3 of the electrically driven mechanisms were Edison Class M machines
for cylinders, and also it has to be mentioned that Thomas Alva Edison did not
take active part in the production of coin-op phonographs in the early years.
Thomas Alva Edison entered the market years later (after 1896), when he was
able to buy back rights from the North American Phonograph Co..
Rights that had been sold to the founder of the company,
Jesse H. Lippincott, years before. The crisis on the stock market in
1893 had an unfortunate effect on Jesse H. Lippincotts
activities (he died of a stroke in 1894), and the Columbia Graphophone
Co., a subsidiary of his firm, took over most activities of the North American Phonograph
Co.. The subsidiary (Columbia Graphophone Co.) was in
fact saved by the production of nickel-in-the-slot phonographs. However,
important business connections
soon gave Thomas Alva Edison a major share of the coin-op phonograph market
with the electric Class E of 1899 and the succeeding electric models
named Imperial, Ajax, Regal, Climax, Majestic,
Windsor, Vulcan, Acme, Eclipse, and Alva,
produced in the years 1900 through 1907. The spring driven Edison machines Bijou
and Excelsior (1901 through 1906), which came after the Class H
1893 the spring driven motors, that followed the stable motors for phonographs
first filed for patent in 1891 by Edward H. Amet
(associated with the Chicago Talking Machine Company) and later by Joseph E.
Greenhill in England (this one, however, not suited for coin slot attachment),
soon made it possible to operate such a 'money maker' even in the most
remote places. In the small joints near the cotton fields, officially called 'juke-joints',
the music machines now called 'juke-boxes' could be found replacing the
live 'juke-bands'. The origin of the term 'juke-box' can be found
in the following text on page
fact, that a reliable spring driven motor had been missing for years, had
resulted in many patents related to electric coin-op phonographs. Some years,
however, would pass before stable electric installations were common in the big
The starting of the semi-automatic phonographs became the basis of many patent conflicts during the early years. Normally a 5 cent piece, called a nickel, blocked the crank when it was inserted in the slot. After that the crank had to be turned up to seven times before it slipped the shaft. During the same sequence the reproducer was returned to the starting position, and the cylinder started revolving. Other phonographs had an almost reverse mode of operation, as the coin released the wound spring when it was inserted in the slot. The handle had then been turned until it slipped the shaft before the coin had been inserted. The mode of operation by blocking the crank was used for cylinder phonographs. The disc playing phonographs, called gramophones today, had no feed-screw, and they were therefore difficult to attach with a coin slot device. That problem was of course soon dealt with, and Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold had as early as 1890, as mentioned previously, been granted the first patents for both cylinder and disc phonographs with coin slot attachment.
machines mentioned until now all had one single recording to offer the patron.
The big automatic or semi-automatic music machines with six or more selections
were not to be found on the market until after the year 1900, except the German
push-button 6-selection Hydraphonograph
introduced in 1897 by the firm Runge & von Stemann in Berlin, Germany, and the special 5-selection Multiplex
machines made by the mechanic George Washington Moore and the operator George
V. Gress in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the American Multiplex
machines were, however, shipped to
noted automatic music machine of the first decade of the 20th century, the Automatic
Entertainer with 24 selections, was produced and patented by the John Gabel
owned company in Chicago. The first model (constructed in 1905) was produced in
1906 with an exposed
counterpart to John Gabel's machine was the cylinder playing Autophone with 12 selections made in
Mentioning the coin-op multi-selection music machines of the period between 1900 and 1910 it is important to remember one particular fact. The fact, that there was no real amplification of acoustic sound. It was a problem for both the Automatic Entertainer and other machines of the same size, because it was difficult to operate these in bars and saloons with many people. The machines had to bring in a lot of money to make it worthwhile.
there were two means of amplification in those days, which could be used in the
big machines. One of them was friction amplification according to the patents
of Daniel Higham. A popular definition of
amplification by friction is that an amber wheel connected to the feed-screw
rotates, while the phonograph is in operation, and rubs a friction shoe, which
is a simple strap of partially vulcanized rubber. As the stylus moves up and
down in the groove the tension on the shoe changes affecting the amount of
friction between the shoe and the wheel. The increased friction between the
wheel and the shoe gives the stylus a little aid in tugging the diaphragm. That
particular kind of amplification was used by Thomas V. Skelly
in 1906, when he constructed the 25-selection Concertophone.
The machine played three-minute cylinders, and it was, so it seems, exported
for the European market before the Great War (1914-1918), but with the name Uncle
Sams Entertainer. Today it is not known how many
machines were exported across the
way to amplify acoustic sound was the use of pneumatic amplification, which had
become possible with the development and improvement of the 'aux-e-to-phone'
principle by Horace Lenoard Short and Charles
Algernon Parsons in 1898 and 1902, respectively. In the construction of the
pneumatic disc playing machines the principle that the stylus alone should tug
the diaphragm and produce vibrations of the air was no longer used. The
diaphragm was to some extent still there, but in the form of a small
comb-shaped body placed opposite two counter-combs. The comb-shaped body
influenced with its vibrations the opening between comb and counter-combs, and
when a current of compressed air from a receptacle was led through the opening
amplified air-waves were directed through the horn. Another kind of
amplification somewhat like the pneumatic one was used by Fortophon
coin shutes the
manufacturers had searched for years for a stable rejector
that could detect false coins and token for use in various coin-op amusement
machines. The first company to introduce a special music token for coin-op
phonographs was in fact the New York Phonograph Company in 1890 (token for the
Albert K. Keller styled phonographs). However, a good and reliable rejector was not available until Thomas V. Skelly developed and patented his version in 1907. Another
even more reliable type was developed by Henry Koch, who sold the patents to
The Regina Music Box Company of
The rather nice machines from The Regina Music Box Company did meet competition on the market for middle size models, especially from machines like the New Automatic Phonograph and the modified version, the Fortune Teller Phonograph, filed for patent by Herbert Stephen Mills in 1905 and produced by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, and the Cailophone Style A with AC current operation and the Cailophone Style B with combined spring motor wound up by an electric motor made since 1906 by the Caille Brothers Company of Detroit. The highly competitive models in question did not have any selections to offer the patron, but they were very typical in design of the era. Today both companies mentioned above have become well-known for production of various arcade and amusement machines during the first half of the 20th century, but they were indeed also represented on the market for coin-op automatic phonographs. Especially the Mills Novelty Company headed by the 3rd generation of the founding Mills family (sons of Herbert Stephen Mills) became a well-known manufacturer of modern style, electrically amplified jukeboxes with ferris wheel mechanism in the thirties.
A destinctive mark of most European style machines was that they often played Pathé 'hill-and-dale' records, which were phono-cut. They were played with a rounded needle in contrary to the ordinary needle-cut records. By using a rounded needle instead of a pointed one the wear of the records was less noticeable, and especially the French models were suitable for public use. In the cabinet below the mechanism of the salon gramophones shelves for extra records could be found in order to give the patron an option.
The many different types of automatic or semi-automatic phonographs with coin slots certainly were important for the promotion of music to the public during the decades before home phonographs and gramophones could be owned by everybody.
Gert J. Almind