The jukebox is an undeniable symbol of the spirit of 1950s American youth. Almost any film or TV programme set in that decade features a scene with kids crowded around one, picking out a record to dance to. Taking up a significant amount of space in every diner, milk bar or drinking establishment, the jukebox played a key role in the tunes being played and listened to. It was one of the first places where you’d hear the new hits before you went to buy the records, and a way to make new friends and even flirt.

In fact, the jukebox is so iconic that it remains a symbol of the mid-20th century even to those who aren’t as informed about retro culture as me and you. True, today, the jukebox is rarely seen in commercial establishments except in a few themed bars and restaurants. As a piece of technology, it largely belongs to a bygone era. However, for anyone who wants to have a 50s-themed living room or games room – and has the space available to accommodate a jukebox – classic restored models can be sourced online at specialist websites and auction sites such as eBay.

But the jukebox appeal hasn’t faded at all. True, not many would invest in buying their own machine to keep at home, however it’s pretty evident that contemporary audiences keep embracing the jukebox as a reference. There are dozens of “jukebox” apps on Google Play and App Store, while digital jukeboxes can be found in some pubs. They may lack the iconic look and vinyl sound quality, but their functionality and concept is still there.

Even online casinos have games themed around them. At 888casino, The Glorious 50s is a slot that’s styled like a jukebox, with rock and roll music in its soundtrack. There’s even a “Pick Me” record bonus game, where you can unlock huge multipliers on any wins you have and of course a retro aesthetic. It’s a perfect example of instant online gaming fun served up in old-school style. It’s actually quite interesting how the jukebox and the slot machine have had parallel histories, adapting to technological advances to end up digital.

But now it’s time to take a dive into the history of the jukebox and shake, rattle and roll with the 45s.

The Early Days
The first ever commercial jukebox went on display at the Palais Royal Saloon in San Francisco in 1889. Invented by Louis Glass and William S Arnold, the device would play a song from a wax cylinder phonograph – once, that is, a nickel had been introduced into the machine. Songs could be heard through four listening tubes and users had to turn a crank to play the tunes.

The machine’s catchy name was “The Nickel-in-the-slot phonograph”. At a conference in Chicago the following year, Glass bragged that the first 15 machines he’d manufactured had earned him $4,000 in a six-month period, so it’s unsurprising that other manufacturers decided to follow his lead.

In 1918, Hobart C Niblack produced a more sophisticated version of Glass’s machine. It was now possible for the proto-jukebox to change the records automatically, which really boosted the machine’s usability. In 1927, the Automated Musical Instrument Company (AMI) used Niblack’s automatic record-changing system to manufacture one of the first selective jukeboxes.

The Audiophone, which was a combination of an electrostatic speaker and a coin-operated record player, was built by piano manufacturer Justus P Seeburg. There were eight records to pick from. The next model from Seeburg was the Selectophone, which had a much wider song choice, thanks to its 10 vertical turntables.

“Jukebox” Becomes A Familiar Term

The term “jukebox” only started being used in the 1940s, by which time there were numerous different versions of the machines on the market. As they were often installed in “juke joints” – any informal establishment that had music, dancing, drinking and gambling going on – so the nomenclature “jukebox” started being used. “Juke” is a Gullah word that means rowdy, wicked or disorderly.

In 1953, Seeburg produced the M100C, which featured on the Happy Days TV programme credits. Now the song selection was up to 100.

During the 1970s, you’d see jukeboxes everywhere – and songs started paying tribute to them. For instance, “Jukebox Music” by The Kinks. Then, in 1989, Wurlitzer introduced the first compact-disc jukebox in 1989 – the very first time the sound of the jukebox went from analogue to digital. From that point on, the classical jukeboxes started to become collectors’ items and were largely outpaced by technological advances.

There are those who would claim that having iPods and music apps on our phones is better than having a jukebox. Sure, it may be more convenient than having a Wurlitzer taking up a quarter of your living room but that’s part of the charm.



Feature image: Jukebox Crazy via Facebook
Jukebox 1 image: “Old jukebox” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Double Feature
Jukebox 2 image: pixabay