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    

Survivor 1951 Seeburg M100-c 100 C Happy Days Jukebox Juke Box Coin Op RecordSurvivor 1950 Seeburg M100-b 100 B Happy Days Jukebox Juke Box Coin Op RecordSeeburg 3w1 Jukebox Remote Wallbox Selector Wall BoxRock-ola Juke Box Sold As IsSeeburg 3w-1 Wall-o-matic Wall Jukebox 100 Selections Coin 10 25 CentWurlitzer 5210 Jukebox Remote Wallbox Selector Dual Coin EntrySurvivor 1968 Wurlitzer 3200 Jukebox Juke Box Coin Op Record Music Machine UsaElvis Collectable Jukemaster 100 JukeboxAmi Wq-200 Jukebox Remote Wallbox Selector Seeburg 3w1 - PartsSeeburg 3w1 Wallbox Beautiful Chrome Includes Conversion Kit, Ipod, Title StripsPrewar Jukebox 1941 Seeburg 9800 8800 Upper Dome Catalin Plastic Yellow And RedWurlitzer 3020 Wall BoxWurlitzer 1100 Jukebox Original Service ManualRowe Ami Jukebox Cdm3 Player With Mech Control And C.d. Decoder Wurlitzer 5210 Parts Only Jukebox Remote Wallbox Selector Dual Coin Entry(3) Original Seeburg Jukebox Blackhead Pickering Cartridges 3 Cartridges Wurlitzer 5250 Parts Only Jukebox Remote Wallbox SelectorOriginal Seeburg Jukebox Wall-o-matic 100 Wallbox 3w-1 3w1 Diner Remote SelectorJukebox - Seeburg Select-o-matic 200Wurlitzer Model 215 Transmitter W/ Red Crystal For 3020 Wireless Wallbox JukeboxCartridge Varco Jukebox Seeburg Two Sided With Needles Mono Cart Redhead ReplacWurlitzer 750 Jukebox #39736 Original Grille Fan Casting Complete Ami Continental & Lyric Jukebox 100-select Keyboard AssemblyWurlitzer 1900 2000 Jukebox Tonearm Assembly + Nos Cobra CartridgePrewar Jukebox 1941 Seeburg 9800 Lower Red Catalin Plastic Pair Very Nice OrgSeeburg Jukebox Redhead Stereo Cartridge--fits Model 222 And OthersLots Of 100 Jukebox Cds Fits Rowe Ami Nsm Rockola With Title StripsRock-ola Tri-vue Wall Box Model 507 No Reserve Sale*rare* Seeburg Jukebox Advertising Binder - Lpc & "discotheque" Ca. 1964Prewar Jukebox 1930's 1940's Seeburg Green Catalin Plastic Concert Master EnvoyWurlitzer Jukebox Coin Box LockLot Of 9 Assorted Kiss Jukebox Title StripsCrosley Cr1701a Ijuke Iphone Ipod Docking Station/charger Jukebox Free ShippingRock-ola Tri-vue Wall Box Model 506-507 No Reserve Sale1015 Jukebox DoorRowe Ami Digital Jukebox Audio Video Controller 40917401Rowe / Ami 1kw Audio Amplifier 61170002 Jukebox PartAmi A B C D Jukebox Amplifier (no Tubes)Wurlitzer Model 4000 Star Speaker Id TagSeeburg Lpc Jukebox X-large Advertising Brochure/booklet Ca. 1964 Lot Of 50 - Jukebox Titles Strips Preprinted Rock 1980's 1990's #2 - NirvanaSeeburg Kd200 Jukebox Juke Box Selector CoverRowe Rock Ola Rockola Wallrock Digital Downloading Wall Mounted Jukebox Juke BoxOriginal Seeburg Jukebox Redhead/pickering Cartridge W/ Needles Very Nice ShapeWurlitzer 800 Jukebox Lower Right Side Catalin PlasticSeeburg Jukebox Contact Block-model B, C, W, G, OthersRock-ola 1940 Master Luxury Light-up Jukebox 12" Jensen Concert Series SpeakerWurlitzer 2200 Jukebox Rw90 Cabinet Lock Pair W/ Special CamsWurlitzer Relay Box For Kit 300 AdapterWurlitzer 1930's Model 412, 616 Etc---original Turntable---Ami Singing Towers Or Top Flight Mechanism And Parts EarlyPower Surge Arcade Game By IcegameAmi Entertainment Rowe Internet Jukebox "a"Ami Starbrite Jukebox - WallmountWurlitzer 1500 Button Assembly, Early Style, Beautiful Red And Blue ButtonsSeeburg Jukebox Vintage 1962 Model 160Touchtunes Mjs Computer And Hard Drive - WorkingAmi Continental Add - On Power L 2155 Part ... OriginalJukebox Title Strips Labels