Jukebox History 1888-1913

These 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 London, England, by the American born Charles Adams-Randall (1888), and especially in San Francisco, California, by Louis T. Glass and William S. Arnold (1889). The coin-operated automatic phonographs, known today as jukeboxes, have over the years turned out to be among the most hard to kill cultural phenomena. Of course there have been good as well as bad times for the individuals and companies involved in the production of automatic phonographs, but so far the jukebox as such has survived both as a cultural and as a commercial phenomenon in most parts of the modern world.

The very early European and American history of the phonograph is still not quite elucidated, as new information concerning the pioneers Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, Charles Cros, Thomas Alva Edison, and especially Frank Lambert, has been found in recent years. However, the first important name connected to the cylinder phonographs was of course Thomas Alva Edison, who filed a patent for a "Phonograph or Speaking Machine" in December 1877. Edison's invention, and the following patented improvements by Alexander Wilford Hall filed in November 1878, became the basis of the 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'.

Another 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 originally filed for patent on the 4th May 1887. Both cylinder and disc playing mechanisms were soon fitted with patented coin slot attachments in America. Not to be forgotten here concerning the early years is the instrument maker and inventor Charles Sumner Tainter, and his significant improvements to Edison's speaking machine resulting in the "Graphophone", earning him the title Father of the talking machine.

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 (1845-1924) (grave at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, CA), the general manager of the Pacific Phonograph Company at 323 Pine Street two blocks away, and together with his business associate William S. Arnold (1851-1908) (grave at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA) Louis Glass had been permitted by the proprietor, Frederic G. Mergenthaler (1840-1902) (grave at Olivet Memorial Park, Colma, CA), 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, and he left the phonograph business around 1894 to get more involved in the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Co.. The noted historian Richard M. Bueschel (1926-1998) 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 centre 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.

In 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 mention the British patents for a complete coin-operated "Automatic Pariophone" applied for in July 1888 by American born electrical and mechanical engineer, and former employee at the Edison company in New York, Charles Adams-Randall (1846-1923) (grave at Pine Island Cemetery, Mattapoisett, MA). Today it is difficult to find out, whether the Automatic Pariophone or Improved Phonautograph was actually demonstrated to the public in London, but the patents by Charles Adams-Randall are so detailed that at least one model must have been around for testing. The jukebox has always been considered a typical American phenomenon even though it has become quite popular in other parts of the world, mainly after World War II.

During 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 San Francisco. Louis T. Glass told other operators and manufacturers during a conference in Chicago in 1890 that the first 15 machines had brought in a little more than $4,000 from December, 1889, until May, 1890. That was quite a lot of money those days. However, it is important to mention, that the first really successful and reliable coin-op phonograph in the States was developed and filed for patent in 1891 by Albert K. Keller, who soon assigned the patent rights to the Automatic Phonograph Exhibition Co. headed by Felix Gottschalk in New York. The Albert K. Keller designed automatic phonographs with Edison mechanism were at first manufactured in collaboration with Ezra Torrence Gilliland of the Gilliland Sales Co., and installed in arcades in many big cities. After the crisis on the stock market in 1893 the New York based company headed by Felix Gottschalk was dissolved by the trustees, and the efforts of the Automatic Phonograph Exhibition Co. to standardize the industry with the Keller designed machine had come to an end. It is interesting to note, that Albert K. Keller claimed that he first conceived the invention as early as July 1887, and that he had built a working model, a forerunner of the known 1891 style, in November that same year. It was later confirmed by Ezra Torrence Gilliland that the experiments with coin attachment to Edison wax cylinder machines took place at the newly established facilities located on the corner of Liberty Street and Broad Street in Bloomfield. Albert K. Keller (1852-1942), a protégé of Ezra T. Gilliland (1846-1903), was superintendent at the factory in Bloomfield in 1887, but the first series of machines for public use was according to his statements manufactured in the autumn 1889 at the Gilliland Electric Co. in Adrian, Michigan. The fact is still, that the first recorded public demonstration of a coin-operated phonograph took place in San Francisco on the 23rd November, 1889, but a lot of important historic information about Albert K. Keller (grave at Oakland Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA) and the other inventors of the era can be found in the book entitled "The Patent History of the Phonograph 1877-1912" compiled, edited and annotated by the noted historian Allen Koenigsberg and published by APM Press in Brooklyn, New York.

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.

It 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 years before had been sold to the founder of the company, Jesse H. Lippincott. 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 of 1898, in fact only met serious competition from the small and relatively inexpensive Columbia Graphophone AS and BS Eagle cylinder phonographs of the same period (1897-1907). The AS model of 1897 was the first really successful counter-top, spring driven, coin-op phonograph on the market. The AS in fact followed the Type S and Type N electric Graphophones of 1895-96. The special, spring driven Graphophone SG (Slot Grand) for 5" cylinders was marketed as early as 1899. Another coin-op Graphophone, the model AZ, that looked much like the electric Edison floor models, was produced around 1906 by the Rosenfield Manufacturing Company in New York. The Rosenfield Manufacturing Co. founded in 1896 by William W. Rosenfield, his sister Bertha Rosenfield, and the lawyer Francis Thomas Gribbins (1870-1904), also introduced an earlier E/M model with Edison mechanism. The rise of AC current usage, by the way, soon became a small problem that had to be dealt with by operators of the Edison old style DC current and battery operated phonographs in the major cities.

After 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 140 in the book "The Story of the Blues" by Paul Oliver: "...A hand-wound phonograph could now provide music for dancing more cheaply, and often with greater variety than could a single singer, a duo or even a string band. In the late thirties the inroads made in group entertainment by the record industry were bolstered by the introduction of the mechanical players, which could handle as many as fifty records at a time. They were set up in the country districts at every crossing cafe, and in every joint and juke. The latter gave them their name - juke-boxes began to replace live musicians everywhere; florid, chromium plated and enamelled in genuine pop art fashion, they were installed at roadside booths, even on breakfast counters...".

The 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 cities of America, and the operators in the rural districts of the States still needed either spring or battery powered mechanisms for decades. The battery powered motors were normally connected to a 2 1/2 volt chemical battery in the lower section of the cabinet, and they were often part of a complicated mechanical construction, which was taken directly from a spring driven cylinder phonograph. One of the first, really nice, portable spring driven phonographs was the four-spring Nickle-in-the-Slot Graphophone advertized in 1895 by Edward Hill Amet, not to be confused with the Nickel-in-the-Slot Phonograph with Edison mechanism marketed by the North American Phonograph Company (note: Nickle vs. Nickel). In connection with the disc playing phonographs it ought to be mentioned here that the first reliable mechanism for discs was developed for coin slot attachment in 1892 by Edward L. Wilson in New York.

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.

The 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 and engineer George W. Moore and the operator George V. Gress in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the American Multiplex machines were, however, shipped to England. The multi-selection machines were impressive, but extremely expensive to produce in large numbers. One of the productions that took place around 1900 in the States was the special Gomber Multiplex with 12 selections designed by George W. Gomber in Conyngham, Pennsylvania, and produced in at least two versions by the American Multiplex Talking Machine Company in West Virginia. At the same time in Europe another very interesting production of coin-op machines took place at the company P. Jeanrenaud in Sainte Croix, Switzerland. The company made a 6-selection phonograph called Théatrophone and a smaller version called Echophone in the early years of the 20th century, but only a few models have survived in museums, and not much information about the Swiss production is known today.

The 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 40 inch horn (102 cm) on top, and it is today often considered the real father of the modern multi-selection disc-playing phonographs. John Gabel and his company did in fact receive a special prize, the Gold Medal, at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco for the Automatic Entertainer. John Gabel, who was an immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (born in 1872 as son of a nailsmith), came from a position as machine shop foreman at the Mills Novelty Company (M.B.M. Cigar Vending Machine Co.) and employee at the Bower Machine Co., and in October, 1898, he formed The Automatic Machine and Tool Co. in Chicago with the help of contract cabinetmaker Edward M. Mikkelsen, an immigrant Dane, and the patternmaker Emil C. Mueller from the Bower Machine Co.. Edward Mikkelsen, however, was bought out of the company less than a year later, and John Gabel had full control of his company and destiny. The life of John Gabel (1872-1955) and the history of his company is described in detail in an article well written by Rick Crandall. The article entitled "Diary Disclosures of John Gabel: A Pioneer in Automatic Music", based on an unpublished diary, was published in the autumn, 1984, newsletter of The Musical Box Society International (Vol. XXX, No. 2), and contains a lot of interesting historic information. Another story about John Gabel and his Automatic Entertainer appeared in the newsletter "Antique Phonograph Monthly" (Vol. VII, No. 8) published by Allen Koenigsberg in the summer, 1984.

A counterpart to John Gabel's machine was the cylinder playing Autophone with 12 selections made in San Francisco by The Autophone Company, also with a division in New York. The Autophone cabinet was designed by Julius Roever, and the patent for the mechanism was filed in December, 1907, by Cornelius Reinhardt. Cylinders were also used in the third of the big machines to be mentioned here. The machine in question was the impressive 24-selection Multiphone produced first at 23 Park Row and later at 92-94 Vandam Street in New York with cabinet design by William H. Pritchard and mechanism developed and patented by Cyrus C. Shigley in Michigan. The design of the mahogany cabinet, intended to be shaped like a harpsichord, made it expensive to produce in large numbers (100-150 machines per month), and alterations to the two patented designs were made. In 1905 the parent company in New York put seven test machines out on locations for one year, and the machines on average netted about $360 after 20% commission to the location proprietor. Two operator companies were established, and the net earnings were divided 50:50 between shareholders and the operator company, and the operator company would then buy new machines to operate from the parent company at a value of $250 each. However, the big machines met serious competition on the market, and the operator companies and the parent company had to fold in 1908. In fact a 30-selection Magazine Phonograph patented in 1907 by Allison Alonzo Pratt (1846-1929) might have been produced at the Multiphone (Autophone) facility in New York, but none of those machines seem to have survived in private collections. Later the factory at Vandam Street was used by The Autophone Manufacturing Corp. to produce Autophone home magazine phonographs, and in the late 1920s also Pritchard-Roever radios. Until 2019 the faint writing MULTIPHONE could be seen on the facade of the original six-story factory building.

Mentioning the coin-op multi-selection music machines of the period between 1900 and 1910 it is important to remember one fact in particular. Simply 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.

However, 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 Canadian born Thomas V. Skelly in 1906, when he constructed the 25-selection Concert-o-Phone. 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 Atlantic. The Skelly Manufacturing Co. at South Jefferson Street in Chicago was also known as The Victor Novelty Works from around 1904 until the name changed to Eagle Manufacturing Co. in 1909.

Another 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 Leonard Short, the pioneer of flight, and Sir 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 in Germany in the construction of special coin-operated Starkton-machines. The machines used discs cut with a greater groove width than normal, which due to the movements of the needle could increase the volume even more.

Concerning 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 Vincent Skelly developed and patented his version in 1907. Another even more reliable type was developed by German born mechanical engineer Henry Koch, who sold the patents to The Regina Music Box Company of Rahway, New Jersey. The coin rejector by Henry Koch was used in the successful Style 100 Automatic Reginaphone produced in 1905 until 1911 and the following Hexaphone models, Style 101 through Style 104, which became rather popular throughout the acoustic era. The 6-selection Hexaphone introduced by Regina in 1909 and produced until 1921 (Hexa-prefix from Greek meaning Six) was probably the most popular 'nickel-in-the-slot' phonograph of the acoustic era on the American market with a production run of at least 6,000 machines.

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 company was founded on the 1st August, 1901, by the brothers August A. Caille (1867-1916) and Adolph A. Caille (1863-1937). 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 family, sons of Herbert Stephen Mills, became a well-known manufacturer of modern style, electrically amplified jukeboxes with ferris wheel mechanism in the thirties. The sons were Frederick Leon Mills (1894-1944), Ralph Joseph Mills (1898-1964), Herbert Stephen Mills Jr. (1899-1959), and Hayden Robert Mills (1901-1949), who unfortunately lost his life in a road accident near Wheaton.

In Europe there were several good coin-op salon gramophones on the market during the period from around 1900 until 1913. The best known of these machines today are Le Ogerphone, Le Ramophone, and Le Concert Automatique Française, which were produced on license by different French companies, mainly for the local market. The German gramophones with coin slots were often table-top type models that could be installed in very small locations. One company in particular, Deutsche Grammophon-Aktiengesellschaft in Berlin, made some nice coin operated 6- or 12-selection gramophones in the years after 1904. Those machines were developed according to patents by the American engineer Clarence Vogt, living for several years in Berlin, but in 1906 the patents were assigned to the company G&T (Gramophone & Typewriter Co.) in London. At the time there were also a few tall German coin-op music cabinets on the market, like for example the Orchester made by Original-Musikwerke in Leipzig, but most of those music cabinets were installed only in large dance halls.

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