Home Page   
EDinformatics Home
Home Page
Today is
Great Inventions --Great Inventors


A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that can play specially selected songs from self-contained media. The traditional jukebox is rather large with a rounded top and has colored lighting going up the front of the machine on its vertical sides. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers on them that, when combined, are used to indicate a specific song from a particular record.


Coin-operated music boxes and player pianos carved out a place for automatic pay-per-tune music in fairgounds, amusement parks and other public places (such as train stations in Switzerland) a few decades before the introduction of reliable coin-operated phonographs. Some of these automatic musical instruments were extremely well built and have survived to this day in the hands of collectioners and museums. In the long run they could not compete with the jukebox since they played the same instrument (or instruments) over and over again and could not reproduce the human voice.

The immediate ancestor of the jukebox, called the "Coin-slot phonograph", was the first medium of sound recording encountered by the general public, before mass produced home audio equipment became common. Such machines began to be mass produced in 1889, using phonograph cylinders for records. The earliest machines played but a single record (of about 2 minutes of music or entertainment), but soon devices were developed that allowed customers to choose between multiple records. In the 1910s the cylinder was superseded by the gramophone record. The term "juke box" came into use in the United States in the 1930s, derived from African-American slang "jook" meaning "dance". The shellac 78 rpm record dominated jukeboxes until the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950.

Starting in the 1980s, compact discs became the norm for modern jukeboxes. Towards the end of the 20th century several companies started introducing completely digital jukeboxes which did not use CDs, downloading the tunes from a secure signal sent over the Internet or through a separate, proprietary transmission protocol over phone lines. In addition to automatically downloading a potentially larger selection than what is available on CDs in a single machine the digital jukeboxes also send back information on what is being played, and where, opening up new commercial avenues.

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, stores and restaurants with a retro theme, such as the Johnny Rockets chain, include Jukeboxes.

Esthetic Style

The first Jukeboxes were simply wooden boxes with coin slots and a few buttons. Over time they became more and more decorated, using color lights, rotating lights, chrome, bubble tubes, ceiling lamps, and other visual gimmicks. Many consider the 1940's to be the "golden age" of Jukebox styling with the gothic-like curvaceous "electric rainbow cathedral" look. World War II and the Great Depression were over, so the new designs and sales choices reflected the festive mood. Even before that, decorative jukeboxes were often one of the few escapes from the problems of the Great Depression and war.

The Wurlitzer model "1015-Bubbler" typifies the look and is arguably the most popular selling Jukebox model of all time. Many of these survived into the 50's in active use and are instead associated with the 50's in pop culture despite their 40's 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 esthetic design. This extra time resulted in one of the greatest designs in iconic pop culture.

After the 40's, the styles generally became more box-like and "high-tech" in look, distancing themselves from "classic" influences such as ancient Greek, renaissance, and gothic motifs found in the 40's models. It could be argued that the 40's styles are more "timeless" because they were less influenced by decade-specific technology.

Also, the post-40's models needed more panel space for the increased number of record titles they could present on selection buttons, reducing the space available for decoration. This is partly due to improved record storage and dispatching technology and partly due to the transition from the 78-rpm disks to the 45-rpm disks, which were more compact.

The classic 40's look still survives today in some copy-cat Nostalgic models, usually based on variations of the Wurlitzer 1015. One could perhaps argue that there was an esthetic mini-boom in the 1970's as color and design again become prominent. The psychedelic patterns and colors that spilled over from the late 60's often combined with the then new Star Wars tech look to create some interesting designs. However, most of the style was due to colored back-lighted panels rather than the shape of the product itself. For this reason the 1970's styles probably won't be remembered as well as the 1940's jukeboxes.

Other esthetically notable models:

  • Rock-Ola model 1413 Premier (1942) - Resembles something from a 1990's science fiction movie. Has a distinctive blue-green glowing "eye globe" in the lower-middle of its gill-like grille.
  • Rock-Ola model 1422 and 1426 (1946-47) - Beautiful use of rainbow-colored leafy-spiral grill-work resembling violin stems.
  • Wurlitzer Model 750 and 750E (1941) - In some ways a precursor to the famous 1015, but with a rounder look.
  • Wurlitzer Model 800 (1941) - Very bold looking model that in some ways resembles a shuttle launch with its two side rockets. A flame-like glimmer was created by internal rotating tubes casting waving shadow patterns against the lights.
  • Wurlitzer Model 850 (1941) - Some of the most artistic grille work.
  • Wurlitzer Model 950 (1942) - In some ways a visual hybrid between models 800 and 1015. Black metal edging gives this a look reminiscent of ancient Greek design.
  • Wurlitzer Models 1080 and 1080-A (1947-48) - Another model that seems to have heavy Greek influence. This model was not as colored-light intensive of other models of the era, but makes very stylish use of wood and classical curves.
  • Wurlitzer Jukebox Model 1100 (1948-49) - Represents a transition style between the 40's and 50's jukebox styling when the record player area started opening up behind larger glass displays. Heavy use of chrome styling.
  • AMI Rowe "Top Flight" Model (1936-38) - Very distinctive grille-work with a sleek, metallic Sci-Fi feel.
  • AMI Rowe Model "A" Jukebox of (1946-47) - Unique "space helmet" look. In many ways the styling was ahead of its time.
  • Seeburg Cadet (1940) - A very handsome model.
  • Gabel Kuro (1940) - A curious design in that its style appears to come from the 1970's instead of 1940.

Note that "Rock-Ola" is actually based on the name of the founder and not "rock music".

External Links

Jukebox is also the name of an album released by jazz musician Jamaaladeen Tacuma. See Jukebox (album).

Jukebox is also the name of a Romanian blues band.

There are also computer peripherals called "jukebox" which serve as mass storage devices. They typically use Magneto-optical disc or Magnetic tape media, contain more than one drive and are attached over a computer network. One example is the HP SureStore family. Similarly, hard disk based portable music players are also called as "jukebox".



Who were the Greatest Thinkers?


See Edinformatics List of

Great Thinkers --Great Minds











Questions or Comments?
Copyright 1999 EdInformatics.com
All Rights Reserved.