A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that can play specially selected songs from self-contained media. The traditional jukebox is rather large with a rounded top and has colored lighting on the front of the machine on its vertical sides. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers on them that, when combined, are used to indicate a specific song from a particular record.
Coin-operated music boxes and player pianos carved out a place for automatic pay-per-tune music in fairgrounds, amusement parks and other public places (such as train stations in Switzerland) a few decades before the introduction of reliable coin-operated phonographs. The first jukebox was an automatic phonograph produced in 1927 by Rowe International, then known as AMI. Some of these automatic musical instruments were extremely well built and have survived to this day in the hands of collectors and museums. But commercially they could not compete with the jukebox in the long run since they were limited to the instrument (or instruments) used in their construction, and could not reproduce the human voice.
The immediate ancestor of the jukebox, called the "Coin-slot phonograph", was the first medium of sound recording encountered by the general public, before mass produced home audio equipment became common. Such machines began to be mass produced in 1889, using phonograph cylinders for records. The earliest machines played but a single record (of about 2 minutes of music or entertainment), but soon devices were developed that allowed customers to choose between multiple records. In the 1910s the cylinder gradually was superseded by the gramophone record. The term "juke box" came into use in the United States in the 1930s, derived either from African-American slang "jook" meaning "dance" or from a name given to it by critics who said it would encourage criminal behavior, this came from the fake family name Juke. The shellac 78 rpm record dominated jukeboxes until the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950.
During the 1960s and '70s, wall box remote selectors were popular in restaurant booths. The most famous is the Seeburg 3W1. Wallboxes didn't have a record mechanism inside; instead they took coins and selected a tune to be played by a jukebox or remote unit elsewhere. The large cabinet was relegated to a back room out of view, and all 160 selections (Rock-Ola and Wurlitzer) or 200 selections (Seeburg) were available in the customer's booth. Small speakers in the wallbox played only your selections, then went quiet while others enjoyed theirs. Since songs were played in the order of the mechanism rather than the order chosen, judicious choice of your songs enabled listening to other patrons selections while awaiting your final song. Multiple purchases of a song simply toggled the selection on - it would only play once, thus satisfying everyone who had paid for it all at the same time. Simply leaving one credit unplayed until late in your meal meant you could hear all songs played until none were left. Some jukeboxes during this time were able to play special 33 1/3 rpm discs that were the same diameter as 45 rpm discs, so a longer song was available, or even multiple songs (an EP, or extended play record) for a higher price. These specialty records, and the familiar white labels used were provided by the unique vendor that supplied records to the operator. Those decades also produced models with ornate lighting, disco and psychedelic effects, and other cosmetic improvements while the reliable internal mechanisms remained moderately stable by comparison. "Popularity" counters told the operator the number of times each record was played (A or B side didn't matter) so popular records remained, while lesser-played songs were replaced with the latest hit song. Wurlitzers were unique because they could play the A side and then the B side of a record then go to the next; Rock-Ola and Seeburg played all the A sides chosen, then all the B sides, then stopped.
Starting in the 1980s, compact discs became the norm for modern jukeboxes. Towards the end of the 20th century several companies started introducing completely digital jukeboxes which did not use CDs, downloading the tunes securely over the Internet or through a separate, proprietary transmission protocol over phone lines. and was In addition to automatically downloading a potentially larger selection than what is available on CDs in a single machine the digital jukeboxes also send back information on what is being played, and where, opening up new commercial avenues.
The worlds first commercial digital jukebox was demonstrated by UK jukebox manufacturer Sound Leisure in 1998. The product, named Nimbus had a 2gb hard drive that held only 30 tracks. Sound Leisure's latest digital jukebox technology the Milestones in Music currently holds every UK Top 40 release since 1952 and every video featured in the UK Top 10 since 1980 without the need for broadband!
Jukeboxes and their ancestors were a very profitable industry from the 1890s on. They were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. Today they are often associated with early rock and roll music, but were very popular in the swing music era as well. As a result, stores and restaurants with a retro theme, such as the Johnny Rockets chain, include jukeboxes.
The first jukeboxes were simply wooden boxes with coin slots and a few buttons. Over time they became more and more decorated, using color lights, rotating lights, chrome, bubble tubes, ceiling lamps, and other visual gimmicks. Many consider the 1940s to be the "golden age" of jukebox styling with the gothic-like curvaceous "electric rainbow cathedral" look. World War II and the Great Depression were over, so the new designs and sales choices reflected the festive mood. The first model manufactured after WWII was the Model A, produced by Rowe International (then known as AMI), known as the "mother of Plastic" because of its opalescent plastics and colored gemstones. Even before that, decorative jukeboxes were often one of the few escapes from the problems of the Great Depression and war.
Styling progressed from the plain wooden boxes in the early thirties to beautiful light shows with marbelized plastic and color animation in the Wurlitzer 850 Peacock of 1942. But after the United States entered the war, metal and plastic were needed for the war effort. Jukebox production was cut back. The 1942 Wurlitzer 950 featured wooden coin chutes to save on metal. It should also be noted that since the mechanisms were made of metal, they were not produced during this time, rather, a new cabinet was produced and the internal components of the jukebox were placed into it. Since many of the mechanisms were built by hand, a lot of these jukeboxes had parts that never fit properly and required modification. The 1943 Wurlitzer Victory cabinet featured glass light-up panels instead of plastic. After the war, material was available again and there was a big boom in jukeboxes.
The Wurlitzer model "1015-Bubbler" typifies the look and is arguably the most popular jukebox design of all time. Many of these survived into the 50s in active use and are instead associated with the 50s in pop culture despite their 40s origin because of their unique visual prominence and production volume. Designed by stylist Paul Fuller, it is rumored that when entertainment equipment factories were redirected toward the war effort, Paul had more time to focus on aesthetic design. This extra time resulted in one of the greatest designs in iconic pop culture.
After the '40s, the styles generally became more box-like and "high-tech" in look, distancing themselves from "classic" influences such as ancient Greek, renaissance, and gothic motifs found in the '40s models.
Also, the post-'40s models needed more panel space for the increased number of record titles they could present on selection buttons, reducing the space available for decoration. This is partly due to improved record storage and dispatching technology and partly due to the transition from the 78-rpm disks to the 45-rpm disks, which were more compact.
Jukeboxes from the 1940s are called Golden Age because of the yellow catalin plastic. Jukeboxes from the 1950s are called Silver Age because of the predominant chrome styling. "Rock-Ola" is actually based on the name of the company founder, David Cullen Rockola, and is not a portmanteau of Rock and Victrola. Rock-ola was founded many years before the term "Rock" was applied to music at all.