Before the iPod, Walkman, turntable, or phonograph there was the music box. Though it's hard to imagine it now, the music box was actually an important first step on the road to the miniaturization of sound. Prior to the music box, non-performed music was produced by large and bulky contraptions using bells or chimes. The music box brought melodies into the home and, eventually, rings, medallions, and even perfume bottles. Music boxes were also hidden within table-top snuff containers inlaid with gold, pearls, and ivory.

The key to the music boxes' portability was a tuned steel comb, invented in 1796 by Antoine Favre in Switzerland’s clock-making region, La Vallée de Joux. The first steel combs were made from varying lengths of metal arranged in a curving fan-shape. As the pins on a rotating cylinder struck the teeth of the comb, notes were produced. Much like early musical clocks, these machines were spring-wound.

In 1810, David LeCoultre, of the famous LeCoultre watch-making family, designed a brass cylinder to play notes on a straight length of tuned steel teeth. Longer cylinders could be pinned for multiple tunes and adjusted laterally to switch between songs. A few years later, Francois Nicole, of the famous Nicole Frères firm, created a steel hairspring damper to soften the ring of each note, and the modern music box was born.

However, it wasn’t until 1875 that the first music box factory was opened by the Paillard company in St. Croix, Switzerland. Previously, all music boxes were produced through smaller cottage-industry operations using the skills of different craftspeople to assemble a complete product. These early musical contraptions were an expensive luxury item favored by the aristocracy, primarily playing hymns and operatic songs. Later versions added mechanical automata to their complex musical tunes for increasingly magical effects.

By the late 1800s, music boxes were built with removable cylinders whose tunes could be changed by replacing specially designed drawers. Finally, in 1885, Paul Lochmann created a music box called the “Symphonion” using a flat metal disc that rotated on a turntable. These metal discs could be easily swapped out, much like a vinyl record. Pop music was suddenly affordable and immediately accessible; within weeks of a Broadway show’s debut, its most memorable musical themes were available on music-box discs.

Gustave Brachhausen, foreman of the Lochmann firm, split with the company and created his own business manufacturing the “Polyphon,” perhaps the most famous disc-operated music box. In 1892, Brachhausen moved to the United States where he opened the Regina Music Box Company in Jersey City, New Jersey. Though Regina produced its own mechanical works, Brachhausen still imported discs from the Polyphon factory in Leipzig.

Regina’s immediate success allowed the company to move into a larger factory space and begin producing its own musical discs by hiring additional staff from the best companies of...

After Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877, music boxes eventually became obsolete due to competition with recorded music. Regina’s music box sales plummeted just after the turn of the century, and though the company attempted to diversify its manufacturing into other fields, by 1919 it was bankrupt. Most other major musical box producers were out of business by the early 1910s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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]

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]

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]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Vintage Musette Mechanical Orguinette Organette Music Box Roller OrganAntique Music Box Imperial Symphonion Survivor Mahogany Veneer 13" DiscPaillard Vaucher Fils Pvf Swiss Antique Cylinder Music BoxRare Vintage Inlaid Swiss 3-tune Reuge Music Box - Very FineAntique Jumeau Automatonautomate Cymbal Player Polichinelle Doll Music BoxAntique 1930s Swiss Thorens Ad30 4.5" Disc Wooden Music Box Working With Disc NrAntique C1900 Symphonion German Music Box 7 5/8" Disc Player Childs PlayerVintage Reuge Sainte-croix Glass Swiss Music Box W/ Dolphin Legs 72 Note 3 TunesRare Antique Junghans Silver Plated Music Box Carriage Chime Bracket Alarm ClockAlice In Wonderland Music Box Jewelry Musical Cheshire Cat Mint PurpleAntique Swiss 8 Tune Cylinder Music BoxAntique Music Box, Nicole Freres, Circa1860, 6 Aires, Excellent ConditionLarge Antique 8 Tune Swiss Cylinder Inlaid Music Box Nice Works 1800's Antique Inlaid Wood Case Spring Wind 8 Song Cylinder Music BoxRare Antique Shell Automaton Music BoxHuge 3 Animated Singing Bird Cage Porcelain Panel Brass Music Box ClockVintage Lefton Bluebird Teapot Pitcher Enterprise Japan ~missing Music BoxAntique Thorens 4-song Music Box Brig Gen William H. Wilbur 1912 West Point Hatsune Miku /hatyunemiku Nendoroido Figure And Vocaloid Music Box And More!!!Antique 8 Tune Swiss Cylinder Inlaid Music Box Nice Works 1800'sEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxAntique J. Chein Tin Musical Cathedral Pipe Organ Music Box - Great Condition!Antique Cylinder Music Box Playing 4 Airs Beautifully Clock Work MechanismEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box1948 "christmas Eve Capers" Santa, Children Move. Electric Light, Music Box. Disney Store Beauty And The Beast Snowglobe With Working Music BoxAntique German Sterling Silver Automaton Music BoxFord : Other Van 1959 Mr Softee Ford Ice Cream Truck Boyertown Body Partial Resto Led Music BoxVintage Thorens 4 Tune Cylinder Music Box Music Box Love Story Anastasia Alexandra & Nicholas My LoveEnesco Mice - Hooray For Hollywood Movie Projector Music Box No BoxMr. Christmas Teddy Takes Requests Music BoxEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Working Wood Case Thorens Switzerland Music Box W/ Hark The Herald DiscVintage Evening In Paris Perfume/music Box Orig ContentsEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Thorens Inc. Music Box With 6 DiscsAntique Music Box For Parts Or RepairRetired 1992 Clothtique Possible Dreams Santa In Christmas Sleigh Music BoxVintage Thorens Disc Music Box Ad 30 For Parts Or Repair Broken Comb Runs FineEnesco - Sew Petite Music Box With BoxDisney Bambi Snowglobe And Music BoxAntique Thorens Disc Music Box With 16 Discs For Automatic Music BoxNightmare Before Christmas Sally Music BoxEnesco It's Tea-lightful Music BoxLionel Trains Christmas Music Box Car Animated Mr & Mrs Santa Clause Gondola SetBeatles Franklin Mint Abbey Road Bell Jar Music Box - MintJosef Originals Figurine "bridal March" Music BoxUnited Self Starting Dancing Ballerina Clock W Music Box And Light Motion LampReuge Swiss Chalet Music Box Plays "im Wald Und Auf Der Heide" Works WellVintage Reuge 2/50 Cylinder Music Box Swiss Movement Lara's Theme I IiEnesco You Oughta Be In Pictures Music Box With BoxReuge Switzerland Ornate Inlaid Mother Of Pearl & Hardwood 4 Song Music Box.72 Note Reuge Movement (3/72) Wood Inlay Italian Music Box Antique Vintage Cylinder Wind Up Two Air Wood Child's Music BoxEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Cuckoo Clock Music Box And Little Man Works,parts Josef Originals Christmas Pointsetta Music BoxDisney Store Bambi Snowglobe With Working Music BoxBright Clean Vintage 60's/70's Mattel Jack In The Music Box - Works!