History of the JukeBox

From Nickel-in-the-Slot to Modern-Day Jukebox

The Seeburg Selecto-o-matic jukebox. Joe Mabel/Creative Commons

A jukebox is a semi-automated apparatus that plays music. It's usually a coin-operated machine that plays a person's selection from self-contained media. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers on them that, when entered in combination, are used to play a particular song.

Traditional jukeboxes once were a significant source of income for record publishers. Jukeboxes received the newest songs first and they played music on demand without commercials.

However, manufacturers did not call them "jukeboxes." They called them Automatic Coin-Operated Phonographs or Automatic Phonographs or Coin-Operated Phonographs. The term "jukebox" appeared in the 1930s.

The Beginnings With Nickel-in-the-Slot

One of the early forerunners to the modern jukebox was the nickel-in-the-slot machine. In 1889, Louis Glass and William S. Arnold placed a coin-operated Edison cylinder phonograph in the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph in an oak cabinet that was refitted with a coin mechanism patented by Glass and Arnold. This was the first nickel-in-the-slot. The machine had no amplification and patrons had to listen to the music using one of four listening tubes. In its first six months of service, the nickel-in-the-slot made over $1000.

Some machines had carousels for playing multiple records but most could only hold one musical selection at a time.

In 1918, Hobart C. Niblack created a device that automatically changed records, leading to one of the first selective jukeboxes being introduced in 1927 by the Automated Musical Instrument Company.

In 1928, Justus P. Seeburg combined an electrostatic loudspeaker with a record player that was coin- operated and provided a choice of eight records.

Later versions of the jukebox included Seeburg's Selectophone, which included 10 turntables mounted vertically on a spindle. The patron could choose from 10 different records.

The Seeburg Corporation introduced a 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950. The 45s were smaller and lighter, so they became the main jukebox media for the last half of the 20th century. CDs, 33⅓-R.P.M. and videos on DVDs were all introduced and used in the later decades of the century. MP3 downloads and internet-connected media players came in the 21st century. 

Jukeboxes Rise in Popularity

Jukeboxes were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s. By the mid-1940s, 75 percent of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes. 

Here are some factors contributed to the success of the jukebox:

  • During the 1890s, recordings had become popular primarily through coin-in-the-slot phonographs in public places.
  • During the 1910s, the phonograph became a truly mass medium for popular music and recordings of large-scale orchestral works and other classical instrumental music proliferated.
  • In the mid-1920s, radio, which provided free music, developed. This new factor, plus the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s, threw the phonograph industry into serious decline.
  • During the 1930s, as American companies relied mainly on dance records in jukeboxes to satisfy a dwindling market, Europe supplied a slow but steady trickle of classical recordings.

Today

The invention of the transistor in 1950s, which led to the portable radio​, helped bring on the demise of the jukebox. People could now have music with them wherever they were.