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 Thorens Gramophone Swiss Automatic Disc Music Box W/ 14 Discs & PapersAntique 1800's Concert Hand Crank Roller Organ Oak Music Box Nice! Works GreatCirca 1900 Antique Double Comb Mahogany Regina 15 1/2" Music Box With 3 DiscsReuge Music Box, Sublime HarmonyDisney Store "frozen" Jewelry Music Box Elsa Anna Doll Figurine Olaf "let It Go"Antique Cylinder Music BoxRegina Music Box Parts OnlyVintage Josef Originals Japan Musical Music Box Girl In Pink Dress, Flowers TagVtg Black Forest Pendulum Music Box Carousel Regula Cuckoo Clock Germany As Is!Rare C. 1800's Regina Coin Operated Model 36 Music Box - For RestorationThorens Switzerland Disc Music Box W/original Box & 15 DiscsVery Fine Large C.1870 Swiss Music Box-inlaid Top- 13" Cylinder- 8 Tunes- Works Franklin Mint Faberge Sterling Silver 14k Gold Enamel Firebird Egg Music BoxAntique Clock Music Box French Vintage Antique 1940s Thorens Swiss 4 Tune Music Box Wood Cylinder ReugeBeautiful Automaton Musical Enesco The Dream Keeper Music Box Plays Cats Memory Mr Christmas Grand Concertina Music Box - Gold Label Collection W/ Key + Box Nm!3 Animated Singing Bird In A Brass Cage Music BoxVtg Sorrento Inlaid Wood Music Box Bees & Flower Bells Blue Danube 12 ¼” X 8" Antique Victorian Celluloid Cabinet Photo Album With Music Box MechanismVtg West Germany Mechanical Automation Singing Bird In Gold Metal Cage Music BoxAntique 1890's 15 1/2" Disc For Regina Polyphon Music Box~1028 Christmas SongAntique 1923 Marquetry Sorentoware Trinket Music Box Pinned 4 Woods Inlay Nr YqzAntique Lot 16 C1880s & 1890s 15 1/2 " Regina Polyphon Music Box Disc Records6 Antique Regina Records For Music Box 15 1/2 InchesEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxLot Of 11 Lenox Fine China Decorative Collectibles Vases Music Box Candle SticksSchmid Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Sorcerers Apprentice Rotating Music Box FigureAntique Cylinder Music Box Organ Sound Bronze 4651984 Peanuts Lucy Christmas Ceramic Schmid Musical/music Box Unused! SnoopyReuge Music Box The Emporer's Waltz Ballerina VintageJosef Originals Music Box €Vintage Anri Carved Music Box-thorens Swiss Movementimpossible Dream-9 Inch-woodAntique Stella Music Box1890's Regina Music Box** Retired Phantom Of The Opera Shattered Mirror San Francisco Music Box**Beautiful Vintage 1880's Cylinder Music Box Plays 5 SongsVintage Old Reuge Music Box Saints Croix Switzerland Sound Of Music EdelweissBeautiful Ardleigh Elliott, Wizard Of Oz Music Box, Look!Schmid Walt Disney Snow White Rotating Music Box Figure StatueSomewhere In Time Grand Hotel Music BoxHalcyon Days Enamel Trinket/music Box 2000 Fireworks 97/1000Antique Badische German Carriage Music Clock Music Box AlarmDisney Beauty And The Beast Snowglobe Music Box 1991dis24The Sound Of Music(blu-ray/dvd, 2010, 4-disc Set) Plus Music Box, Hardcover BookVintage Thorens Ad30 Disc Book Style Music Box By Fred Zimbalist W/ 20 Discs Handcrafted Wooden Gypsy Melba Ware Draft Horse Drawn Wagon Music BoxLarge Clock & Music Box Main Spring Winder Tool MainspringRare Old Tin Metal Music Box With Key Altorf Switzerland On FrontPhantom Of The Opera Music Box Jewelry 25th Anniversary Collectors EditionAntique Picture Music Box Crank Handle Swiss MovementCuckoo Clock And Swiss Lador Wind Music Box Parts For RepairRare Vintage 1940s Thorens Swiss 4 Tune Cylinder Music Box Antique ReugeVintage 1988 Disney Little Mermaid Ariel And Prince Mirror Jewelry Music BoxBeautiful Vintage Japanese Hand Painted Toyo Music Box & Jewelry Box Shadow BoxBreyer Model Porcelain 50th Anniversary Carousel Horse Music Box Retired 2000Antique Book Shaped Music Box Faux Rosewood Butterscotch Bakelite Catalin Swiss?Vintage Pepsi Cola Music Box LighterVintage Pepsi Cola Music Box LighterVintage Bols Ballerina Working Gold Creme De Menthe Music Box Never Opened