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Put Another Nickel In…

The history and development of the jukebox, and how it kick-started the beginning of rock 'n' roll

Mechanical jukeboxes continued to be one of many amusement machines in these penny arcades, but in the late 20s with the introduction of the electric phonograph, motors and amplification, the modern jukebox became a reality.

In 1926, J.P. Seeberg, a Swedish immigrant to the U.S., invented an electric system that was coin operated and would play any of eight records. A year later, Automated Musical Instruments introduced its electric jukebox. Unlike their mechanical predecessors, that could only be heard by fee-paying patrons standing near the machine, these systems were capable of filling an entire room with sound.

These innovations further popularized the jukebox, and so began the modern jukebox craze.

The other two major manufacturers of jukeboxes appeared in the early 1930s. Wurlitzer, a long-time manufacturer of pianos and player pianos, introduced its first jukebox in 1933. And in 1935 David Rock-Ola (his real name), whose company had been building scales and coin-operated games, introduced its first jukebox.

When the great depression occurred in the 1930s, the jukebox business became the one bright spot for the record industry. For the public, a nickel would pay for six plays and like the movies of the day provided a few minutes escape from the depression.

A 1936 Wurlitzer Model 35 prototype jukebox.

There were two other historical events that helped the jukebox gain prominence.

The repeal of prohibition in the U.S. in 1933 meant that there were now tens of thousands of bars, clubs, and other drinking establishments that were installing jukeboxes for entertainment.

The second was the outbreak of World War II, and the relocation of millions of young soldiers to camps in far-away locations. For entertainment, the armed forces installed hundreds of jukeboxes in PX’s and service clubs all over America and overseas.

While these young people would have frequented their local jukebox back home, those machines would have had only a couple of types of music in the 24 available selections, and would have been chosen to suit the area and the jukebox’s clientele.

But the military jukeboxes were unique in that they were stocked with a range of music to satisfy the varied tastes of those who had come from every part of the country and ethnic background. American blues, gospel, country and pop records were all thrown together on military jukes that introduced GIs to all sorts of music that came from outside of their home community and culture.

Almost overnight, American regional music, never really played on radio before, was heard by those from every region of the country. Many of these young people were also musicians that would now explore, absorb, learn, appropriate, and embrace pop music styles they had never heard before.

After the war this would have a significant impact on the coalescing of those musical roots that would form rock and roll.

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