The first coin-operated phonograph made its debut at the Palais Royale in San Francisco in 1889. The brainchild of Louis Glass and William Arnold, it featured a coin slot that activated an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph. There were no speakers (customers held a tube to their ears) but despite this limitation, the contraption earned its entrepreneurs $1,000 in just six months, one nickel at a time.

The Glass/Arnold/Edison machine was not really a jukebox in the way we know them today, but it did lay the groundwork for the Gabel Automatic Entertainer in 1906, which was. The hand-cranked Entertainer played 10-inch discs instead of wax cylinders, offered customers more than one selection (usually a Souza march), was amplified, and could tell slugs from real coins. Though primitive by today’s standards, the Entertainer was the state of the art for more than two decades.

In 1927, the Automatic Music Instrument Corporation (AMI) introduced the first electronic jukebox. Suddenly every place where people gathered — be it a roadhouse, café, or house of ill repute — had to have its own “automatic phonograph,” as the devices were then called. During Prohibition, no self-respecting speakeasy would be without one.

After Prohibition, sales initially soared, but jukebox manufacturers had created a problem for themselves — their machines were too well built and the technology was not changing rapidly enough to justify their replacement. One company, Wurlitzer, tackled this dilemma by offering healthy trade-in credits to customers. Once an old model was turned in, it was destroyed, creating the scarcity that has made some of these early jukeboxes so valuable.

Seeburg was another early manufacturer, launching its jukebox division in 1935. To differentiate its products from AMI and Wurlitzer, Seeberg hired Nils Miller, who incorporated new, tough, moldable phenolic resins into Seeburg’s Art Deco era designs. Not to be outdone, Wurlitzer also created a string of eye-catching models. In 1939, its round-cornered, wood-and-metal trimmed Model 600 was the most popular jukebox in the country. Translucent Italian onyx was used on the Model 700. And the Model 850, known as the Peacock for the birds that adorned its ornate case, used spinning acetate Polaroid discs to create a mesmerizing mini light show for its listening customers.

Another important player in the pre-war era was David Rockola, who purchased the Gabel patents and started Rock-Ola, the only surviving independent manufacturer today. The Rock-Ola machines of the post-war era (particularly the MAGIC GLO boxes with their wooden grilles, molded plastic pilasters, and gleaming chrome) are some of the handsomest ever made, although fans of the iconic Wurlitzer Model 1015 would probably have something to say about that.

By the 1940s, jukeboxes had become elaborate, almost ceremonial public objects, altars to music, if you will. Outside, their wood, glass, and plastic forms frequently echoed the prevailing aesthetic of late Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. Inside, the machines were color blind to the racial inequities that plagued the public airwaves, playing such artists as Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters (or whomever its owner thought customers would like), who were largely excluded from the radio. Thus, jukeboxes were an important part of our social culture, as well as drop-dead gorgeous machines that made people want to get up and dance...

Key terms for Vintage Jukeboxes

Phenolic resin: The principle material in Bakelite and other high-density plastics.

Pilaster: A column built into, and projecting from, a wall. In the case of jukeboxes, the pilasters are the vertical elements, be they wood or plastic, at the corners of the box.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

International Arcade Museum

International Arcade Museum

This site boasts more than 13,000 pages of educational content on arcade and coin-op collecting, including innumera… [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

Remember Eddie Cochran

Remember Eddie Cochran

Eddie Cochran died in 1960 at the age of 21, but his legacy lives on at Remember Eddie Cochran. The site pays tribu… [read review or visit site]

PinballHQ.com

PinballHQ.com

An enormous database focusing on pinball machines and other arcade games from the 1930s and on, from a collector wh… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Dylanstubs.com

Dylanstubs.com

Hey babe, check out this database of over 2,900 Bob Dylan ticket stubs and concert posters, assembled with the help… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1960's Ami Jukebox Continental 2. "stereo Round" Model Xjkb-100 Vintage Survivor 1958 Seeburg 201 Jukebox Juke Box 200 Select Coin Op Record Usa1948 Rockola 1428 Magic Glo Jukebox1953 Seeburg 100w JukeboxRockola Corvette Jukebox1929 Pokerette Poker Gambling Device~ Trade Stimulator !!Rock-ola Rockola 1438 Comet Jukebox Juke Box Coin Op Arcade Machine As FoundBubbler Jukebox Model 1015Seeburg Ds160 Set Of Excellent Directional Speakers !! Seeburg 3w-1 Select-o-matic Wallbox W/rare Mounting Plate! Excellent Condition!Seeburg Library Unit Dial Remote Control For Home Jukebox Hsc Automatic PlaybackVintage Rowe Ami Wall Box, Jukebox, For Parts/repair/restoration, Model WreAstatic 51-1 Cartridge New Old Stock - Use In Wurlitzer 1015 1080 And MoreLindstrom Bing Crosby Junior Juke Model 999 Record PlayerWall Model Rowe Storm Cd Jukebox With Cd`sRhino Records 78 Rpm Jukebox Classic Repro Records X 24Ami Rowe Cdm4 PlayerCd-pro Player For A Cd JukeboxWurlitzer Wall Speaker 4005 # 2001702 And 4005a # 2003057 - UnrestoredVintage Seeburg Wall-o-matic 100 Jukebox / Diner Counter Record PlayerWuelitzer Jukebox 503 Amplifier Restored Can Replace Wurlitzer 501 And 700Wurlitzer 800 Jukebox Juke Box Rear DoorsSeeburg Consolette Dec Can Be Converted To Mp3 Type ElectronicsAireon AmpSeeburg, Wurlitzer, Rock-ola Jukebox LocksCrosley Ijuke Mini Jukebox Made For Playing Your Ipod MusicRowe Ami Model Dd Jukebox Amplifier # 47249 ( 100 % Rebuilt ) GuaranteeWurlitzer 1080 Grille Ring Casting # 47232 & Large Grille Star # 46933 - BronzeRock Ola 39 Std Lux Set Of Replacement Plastics ~high Quality Made By Jukebox GaVintage Jukebox Numbers Letters Bulbs EctSeeburg Shfa5 Amp41st Annual Union Phono & Music Box Show Early Admit Ticket June 10, 11, 121935 Wurlitzer P12 Drip Tray And Support AssemblySeeburg Shfa5 Parts AmpBritney Spears I'm A Slave 4 U Remixes Promo 2 X Vinyl 12''Seeburg Jukebox Tail Light Model 201 1958 Vintage 8x10 Reprint Of Old PhotoSattellite 200 JukeboxRowe Jukebox 61146910 Amp Assembly 250w, 7 Band Rowe Mod BoxOver 100 Original Jukebox Title Strips/tags 40s-80's