A jukebox is an automatic music-playing device containing records, CDs or digital recordings. Each track is given a code, and can be played for a small charge. They are predominantly coin-operated and usually found in bars and pubs.
Vintage jukeboxes from 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s which use vinyl records such as 78s and 45s are now highly collectible.
Some collectors focus their collections on jukeboxes from a particular decade.
Other collectors may choose to collect jukeboxes made by specific manufacturers such as Wurlitzer, Rock-Ola or the Seeburg Corporation.
The first jukebox
The jukebox evolved from the ‘nickel-in-the-slot’ phonograph, a device invented by Louis Glass and William S. Arnold in 1890.
These machines held a single recording with a length of around two minutes, which could be heard via four listening tubes.
In 1918 Hobart C. Niblack invented a device that would automatically change records, and in 1927 The Automatic Music Instrument Company released the first electrically amplified multi-selection phonograph.
These new phonographs became popular with clubs and restaurants, as it enabled them to attract customers and provide music without the cost of hiring a live band to play.
The term ’jukebox’ is believed to have originated from ‘juke joints’, which were essentially bars featuring music, dancing, gambling and drinking set up by black rural workers in the southern states of the USA after emancipation. Jukeboxes quickly became associated with dancing in such establishments and the name stuck.
During the 1930s most models were capable of playing between 10 – 16 different shellac 78rpm records.
During the 1940s most were upgraded to hold 24 records and the designs of the machines themselves became far more elaborate, using curved boxes and lights to attract customers.
In 1949 the 45rpm record was created, making records both cheaper and smaller, enabling jukeboxes to hold far more records than before.
The first ‘all 45’ jukebox holding 100 records was developed by the Seeburg corporation in 1949, and the format became the standard for the majority of jukeboxes until the introduction of compact discs in the 1980s.
An important development for jukebox technology was the invention of the ‘wall box’, which could allow patrons of bars and diners to choose records via a small remote controlled box from their table. The 1950s and the boom of youth culture saw a massive increase in the popularity of jukeboxes and by 1953 there were 450,000 in venues across America.
Modern day jukeboxes
The advent of CDs, and later digital music technology such as MP3s, means that modern day jukeboxes can hold an almost infinite number of tracks. They remain popular in bars and pubs around the world, and the vintage machines have become collector’s items.
Types of Jukebox
A number of manufacturers have built jukeboxes over the years, with the majority producing them during the 1930s – 1950s. These companies include Wurlitzer, the Seeburg Corporation, Rock-Ola and Link.
The world’s most expensive jukebox
The most expensive jukebox ever sold at auction is a 1942 Wurlitzer model 1950 designed by Paul Fuller.
Described at the most valuable jukebox ever made by the Wurlitzer company, it sold at Christie's in Los Angeles in 2001 for $22,325.