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    

Vintage Swiss Brass Automaton Birdcage - Music Box Singing Birds - Bird CageAntique Victoria Music Box Rare Street Organ Hurdy Gurdy Drehorgel Not PolyphonBeethoven Sonate Opera Reuge 3/72 Jewelry Music Box Beautiful Works Sounds Gr8! Beautiful Singing Bird Music Box Birdcage French Art Deco Automaton 1920s Works Mettlach Beer Stein Tankard 2097 Music Box 1/2 L Musical Theme19th.c. Antique Working Swiss Cylinder Music Box Disney Little Mermaid Under The Sea Snowglobe & Music Box (see Description)Disney Villains Snowglobe, Light Up Feature & Music Box (grim Grinning Ghosts)Vintage Swiss Thorens Mechanical Music Box 4 Parts 52 Note German Christmas SongCirca 1900 Victorian Wooden Crank Style Music Box-working Condition,19" Hi GradeAntique Kg Karl Griesbaum Singing Bird Cage Music Box Automaton Circa 1910 Victorian Era Wooden Crank Style Music Box-working Condition, 16"Cool Antique Mohair Papier Mache Toy Pig Hidden Compartment Music BoxRare Htf B. Kliban The Cat Music Box Phonograph Works ! Sigma TastesetterAntique Victorian Celluloid Music Box Photo Album 2 Airs Dancing Floral SwissGerman Badische Carriage Clock, Music Box W/key Crescent Moon C.1920 VtgWorks 100% Vintage Reuge Swiss Mechanical Alarm Clock Music Box "doctor Zhivago"Ostheimer Wooden Music BoxCottage Garden Wooden Music Box With Decorative Woodwork And Photo InsertVintage Reuge Music Box, 3/72 , Turkish March 3 Parts W. A. Mozart Vtg Lot Oriental Jewelry Bracelet Ring Necklace Mop Music Box Wear Repair JunkSailor Moon Star Locket- Plastic Music Box/locket-1992-1993 Bandai- Vg/in Box Easter Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Automated Singing Bird Cage Music Box German? No ReserveBandai Sailor Moon Gold Music Box Star Locket Pendant Sailor Moon(japan Version)Antique French Carved Black Forest Wood Jewelry Box W Music BoxThe Wizard Of Oz Hourglass Snow Globe San Francisco Music BoxDisney Beauty & The Beast Snowglobe & Music Box (there's Something There)Circa 1930's Victorian Wooden Symphonium Music Box-working Condition,8 DiscsVintage Thorens Ad30w Swiss Automatic Disc Music Box With 5 Discs Easter Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Reuge Music Box Alarm Clock With Original BoxEaster Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box W Austrian And Swarovski CrystalEaster Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box W Austrian And Swarovski CrystalZippo 1998 Popeye Music Box Set's Limited Edition Super RareThorens Switzerland 2 Music Box Wind Up 3 & 2 Tunes Blue Danube Vienna Woods EtcVintage Willitts Design Snoopy & Woodstock Baseball Music Box Excellent Cond Rare Music Box - Festival Of Britain - South Bank 1951 - Thorens SwitzerlandEaster Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box W Austrian And Swarovski CrystalEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Automated Singing Bird Cage Music Box Clock German Unique PieceEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box14 Vintage Thorens Ad-30 Swiss Music Box Discs Nice Lot Must See ! 921Lucy And Me Bear Music Box Bear At Piano Christmas Carols Deck The Halls RareVintage Fisher Price 995 Music Box Record Player With 5 Records Works GreatHalcyon Days Enamel Music Box, Royal Albert HallReuge Music BoxVintage Figural Mechanical Reuge Music Box Gondola W/dancer Inlaid Sorrento YqzReuge Music BoxVintage Josef Originals Figure America Flag 4th Of July Girl Music Box God BlessLg Vintage Gueissaz Jaccard German Hunter Cuckoo Clock Dancers 2 Song Music BoxEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxEstate Find! Vintage Wooden Jewelry Music Box Filled W/ Gorgeous Vintage JewelryJosef Originals Girl In Blue Dress Playing A Violin Music Box Plays 'facination'Atq~black Forest~swiss Music Box W/brienz Carved Wooden Bear & Cigarette Box~ Vintage Usable Beer Stein Music Box Mug German Swiss PorcelainEaster Egg Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music Box W Austrian And Swarovski CrystalDisney The Little Mermaid Ariel Music BoxVintage Swiss Reuge The Sound Of Music Box Keychain, Key Ring Original Box Works