American inventor Thomas Edison successfully recorded himself singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the very first phonograph in 1877, and established a company named the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company on January 1878 to exhibit the machine the following year. The invention was initially successful as a novelty, despite the fact the cylindrical tin foil on which recordings were made could only be played a couple of minutes and there were no means of mass reproduction of cylinders. This was later resolved when Edison decided to produce wax cylinders.
Years later, Louis Glass and William Arnold, presented a device that played songs using a wax cylinder when you put a nickel inside the machine. It was initially called “nickel-in-a-slot” then later shortened to nickelodeon. On November 23, 1889, Glass installed this coin-operated machine at Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.
John Gabel invented a music machine called the “Automatic Entertainer” in 1906 that offered various selections of records. He replaced the wax cylinder with 78-rpm disc recordings and his Automatic Entertainer rose to fame until the mid-1920s.
Meanwhile, the term jukebox is thought to have appeared in the late 1930s, however, there have been disputes and arguments in terms of its origins. Some speculate that it is derived from the African word jook, which means “to dance.” There are also claims that Jukebox can be linked to roadside bars or makeshift bars called juke joints that were frequented by African-Americans, where the early Jukeboxes were seen.
The fame of jukebox and the record industry almost plummeted with the birth of radio around the 1920s. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, people were searching for inexpensive entertainment and this helped revive the record industry. Around 1939, a boost in the sales of records was evident and more people became fond of listening to records played on the jukebox which set a greater percentage of sales. Popular companies such as Wurlitzer, Seeburg, and Rock-Ola manufactured jukeboxes during the 1940s that could be seen in almost every bar and restaurant across the country.
Jukebox design continued to develop during those peak years. One of the best known designers is Paul Fuller, the great man behind the world-class design of Wurlitzer jukebox models, making Wurlitzer the leading jukebox company in the late 1940s and 1950s. Wurlitzer used art deco styled cabinets, bubble tubes, and rotating lights that pushed the company to the top. In the mid-1950s, jukebox hit the peak of its popularity.
The biggest selling jukebox recorded in history and the most popular design was the Wurlitzer 1015 that was introduced in 1946. In 1948, Seeburg introduced the Select-O-Matic 100, the first jukebox with 100 selections. Jukebox with 200 selections were manufactured around 1956.
The establishment of fast-food and chain restaurants along with the introduction of cassette tapes marked the end of jukebox’s fame since taped music were on a higher demand and played in these new places.
Since the late 1980s, there has been a demand for new jukeboxes and the collection of refurbished jukeboxes became popular. With the aim to preserve the rich history of jukebox, the American Historic Juke Box Society was organized in 1985.