The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company was an American manufacturer of musical instruments, organs and jukeboxes.
The company was founded in 1853 by the businessman Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer, who ran it as an import business selling musical instruments to the U.S Government. During the 1880s the company began to manufacture a successful line of pianos, and was one of the leading names behind the coin-operated music boom of the late 19th century when they attached coin slots to their line of automated player pianos.
During the early part of the 20th century the company began to manufacture enormous theatre organs which were used to create a live soundtrack to silent films. They were hugely successful, but their business was hit hard by two factors: the coming of sound in the cinema and the start of Prohibition in the United States in 1920.
The company struggled for years through the Depression, but the repeal of prohibition in 1933 saw the company begin to manufacture coin operated phonographs, later known as jukeboxes. The jukebox industry boomed as the demand for music from newly-reopened bars and nightclubs soared. BY 1937 the company had sold over 100,000 machines, and in 1946 once production had restarted after World War II the Wurlitzer 1015 model became the most popular on the market selling 56,000 machines in 1946.
During the so-called Golden Age of the jukebox, the majority of Wurlitzer’s most notable machines were created by Paul Fuller, who headed their design department and had 17 models patented in his own name. These Fuller-designed models are now amongst the most sought after by jukebox collectors.
The company ran into trouble again in the late 1940s, with the invention of the 45 rpm record. Previous to this, jukeboxes had been able to hold around 25 single-sided shellac records. But the 45 single enabled machines to play up to 50 double-sided records, and the pioneering work of the Seeburg Corporation meant that they were the first manufacturer to produce such a jukebox in 1949. Fuller had left Wurlitzer a year earlier in 1948, and their designs were never the same again.
Seeburg went on to dominate the jukebox market, and the Wurlitzer Company never caught up with their rapidly-developing technology. They continued manufacturing models into the late 1970s, but as the demand for jukeboxes faltered so did the company, and they were bought out during the 1980s by the Baldwin Piano Company.
- Wurlitzer 950
- Wurlitzer 850 Peacock
- Wurlitzer 1100
- Wurlitzer 950 Victory
- Wurlitzer 1015
- Wurlitzer 3100
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.
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