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 1920s German Long Mohair Teddy Bear Toy Stuffed Music Box Vtg MechanicalAntique Chautauqua Organ Roller Victorian Cylinder Music Box Grinder Crank PartsAntique 1920s Long Mohair Dog Stuffed Toy Music Box German Teddy Bear VintageVintage Nativity Music Box Erzgebirge German Reuge Silent NightReginaphone Music Box Phonograph Style 240 Gorgeous Lion's Head ModelVintage Music Box Reuge Sainte Croix Switzerland 4 Tunes 50 NotesReuge Music Box With 5 Interchangeble Cylinders 10/50 Original Box, SwitzerlandRare Vintage Reuge Swiss Brass Cylinder 2/36 Tune Wood Music Box Thorens AntiqueAntique Reuge Music Box Key ChainVintage 14k Gold Music Box "music Hath Charm" Moveable Opens, Makes Sound CharmAntique German Automaton Fao Schwarz Music Box-dancing CouplesBeautiful German One Day Romance Cuckoo Clock With Two Tune Music BoxMr. Christmas Animated Holiday Symphonium Victorian Ballroom Music BoxThorens Automatic Disc Music Box With 6 Discs--working ConditionFine Victorian Antique Musical Photograph Album With Music Box 1870 Photo CdvAntique, 1800’s Swiss Cylinder Music Box, Serial #50645Lot Of Vintage Enesco Lucy And Me Bears, House, Music Box - Holiday And MiscThomas Kinkade "i'll Be Home For Christmas" Music Box By Bradford ExchangeRare Antique Friedrich Mauthe Germany Carriage Alarm Clock Music Box Bracket VtgKliban Cats Music Box~vintage~sigma Tastesetter~japan ~euc Rare!!15 1/ 2" Steel Regina Music Box Disc €Thorens Music Box Ad 30 With 23 Disc(3) Vintage Snoopy Musical Carousel Music Box Willits Schmid Nr!!Vintage 12" Ceramic Christmas Tree With Music BoxBeautiful Vintage Thorens Music Box W/org. Box - Al236 38 Combs - NrReuge Music Box Part Of An Estate Sale Mint Condition With LockVintage 2 Birds In A Cage Music Box, Wind-upExtra Large Jacots Music Box Or Concerta 1/4 Sawn Oak Working Needs Cleaning!The Beatles Franklin Mint Porcelain Music Box Set Of 6 Albert Schwab Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Music Box Turning Figures, 19" High NosThe Thomas Kinkade Crystal Music Box Plays We Wish You A Merry Christmas 3dVintage Fisher Price Music Box Record Player W/ Records - Works!!Music Box 15.5" Discs: Lot Of 5 Regina 15 1/2 Inch Disc2001 Mr Christmas Symphonium Wood Music Box 8 Christmas Songs & 8 Classic Songs15 1/ 2" Steel Regina Music Box Disc "auld Lang Syne" Easter Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxReuge Music Box Handcrafted Part Of An Estate Sale Vintage 1968 Anri Italy Music Box Snoopy Linus Peanuts Swiss Reuge Movement Vintage Reuge Large Single Rose Blonde Wood Inlaid Music Box Jewelry BoxAntique Vintage Thorens Table Top 11" Disc Crank Music Box Oak Case Works GreatVintage Reuge French Cancan Dancing Music Box Switzerland Works Great L@@k!!!!!Very Ornate Fitz And Floyd Christmas Santa Music Box - O Come All Ye FaithfulLot Of (11) Antique 7.5” Symphonion Discs Music Box Metal DiscRetired Michael Adams San Francisco Music Box Milk Truck W/ Cats ~nr~Vintage Christmas Dollhouse Animated Music Box "santa Claus Is Coming To Town"Wooden Jp Windup Movement Music Box Spirited Away Theme Birthday Xmas Gift U.sThorens Swiss Made Music Box With 19 Metal DiscsAntique Victorian Lithograph Tin Wind-up Music Box Easter Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Ballerina Music Box Jewelry BoxThomas Kinkade's Holiday Tradition Music Box '03 Third Issue Cherished ChristmasRussian Swan Lake Ballet Porcelain Music Box 1992 By Ardleigh Elliott #2620aFamily Circle Phoenix Reggae | –Vintage Reuge Dancing Bride And Groom Music Box (plays Here Comes The Bride)Sailor Moon Moon Miracle Music Box 1992 BandaiVintage Mid-century Raylite Christmas Church W/light & Music Box Silent NightThomas Kinkade Holiday Merriment Music BoxEaster Egg With Horse Carousel Trinket Box By Keren Kopal Music BoxVintage Raylite Lighted Christmas Cathedral Church W Music BoxSchmid Snoopy Flying Ace Music Box With Orig. Paper Tag Plays Over There Vintage