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Wurlitzer, 150 years in as many words.

1856 - 2012one note

Here's a very brief look at the history of the Wurlitzer Jukebox and how it evolved from coin operated instruments, to the Golden and Silver age machines of the 1940s and 50s, finally to become the CD Jukeboxes available today.

The musical tradition of the Wurlitzer family can be traced back as far as the 17th century, the forefathers of Rudolph Wurlitzer  had already made a name for themselves in Saxony as manufacturers and dealers of musical instruments prior to emigrating to the US.

Rudolph Wurlitzer arrived in America in 1853 at the age of 24 and founded The Wurlitzer Company in 1856. At first he imported musical instruments and opened sales outlets in all the big US cities. He started production of pianos in America in 1880.
In 1896 the “Tonophone”, the first coin operated piano, was introduced to the market, setting the scene for the still famous cinema and theatre organs that followed. These “Mighty Wurlitzers” provided a huge turnover for the Company in the silent film era of the 20th century.

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These machines where produced in the famous manufacturing plant at North Tonawanda, near Buffalo, New York State, which had been acquired in 1908.

By 1928 Wurlitzer found themselves with a shrinking market and few liquid assets. The following year, 1929, saw the Wall Street crash, which reduced the company to consider selling furniture and fridges.

But things were about to change, Farny Wurlitzer, youngest son of the firm’s founder, bought a patented music box mechanism at the beginning of the Thirties, and took on it’s inventor, Homer Capehart, and a brilliant designer called Paul Fuller. This was the beginning of the “Golden” era for Wurlitzer with their first Jukeboxes which played the old 78 shellac records. Wurlitzer quickly took over 60% of the booming Jukebox market.

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The name Wurlitzer became a synonym for Jukeboxes with its “Music for millions” trademark in this period.
Up to this time the elite circles in America had been well served with pianos and theatre organs, now the Wurlitzer Jukebox became a familiar sight to every restaurant or bar customer with the first “P10” model. After inserting a coin, one could select a song from a choice of 10 shellac record titles.

In the Thirties, the Jukebox became the “small man’s concert hall” and the principle remains the same today, the customer can make a selection from the music list after inserting a coin. Nowadays, CDs are in use, and there is a choice of around 2,500 titles, the sound quality is superb and the Jukebox can fulfil almost any musical request.

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By the early Forties Wurlitzer produced some of most handsome dome top Jukeboxes the world has ever seen. The 850 Peacock and 850A Tulip in 1941, followed by the 950 Gazelle in 1942 which was made almost completely from wood due to wartime material restrictions. These machines are prized as being the worlds most sought after and costly Jukeboxes.



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The Wurlitzer 1015 became a big hit in 1946. Wurlitzer had to call a halt to the production of Jukeboxes due to the war in order to produce important war products such as radar components.
The engineers, especially designer Paul Fuller, had continued to work on new Jukebox models over this period. The result was called the “1015”. Between 1946 and 1947, 56,000 of these machines were built and sold in just 18 months. The exceptional design of the “1015” had made it possibly the most attractive Jukebox of all time. In all events, it was sold more than any other model in the 20th century. The “golden era” of the Jukebox continued into the first post war years.

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The “Silver era” of Jukeboxes began around 1950. The design was changed, the 45 single made inroads, and the selection from 100 titles became standard. Jukeboxes with shiny chrome and magical lighting began to be produced. They became a fascinating focal point in any bar or café. In 1956,Wurlitzer produced their first Jukebox with a selection of 200 titles perfectly timed for its 100th company anniversary, the Wurlitzer 2000.
By the end of the Fifties much of the earlier classic styling had been lost. Tooling costs to produce new models each year and compete with rival Jukebox manufactures, had weakened the company and the Jukebox boom years where coming to an end.

Wurlitzer continued to produce Jukeboxes throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, but never in the numbers of better times. The visual play machines had gone and boxy cabinet designs where the order of the day. In a last ditch attempt to revitalise their dwindling market the company looked back to their Paul Fuller creations for inspiration and came up with a nostalgia model for 1974, the 1050. It did not prove to be a popular model and sounded the death knell for Wurlitzer who ceased manufacturing Jukeboxes in the USA the same year.

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Today the name Wurlitzer lives on as they had set up a German subsidiary (Deutsche Wurlitzer) in the early Sixties to accommodate a booming European market. The German factory has continued to manufacture Jukeboxes to the present day and supplies Jukeboxes worldwide as well as it’s range of high quality vending machines.

Some 40 years after the Paul Fuller design of the 1015, Wurlitzer started production in 1986 of the “One More Time” nostalgia Jukebox, a recreation of the legendary 1946 model but with modern technology. This proved to be very successful and in 1990 the “One More Time” CD model was introduced.

These models are still as popular as ever and are available with many new options. iPod models have been introduced along with further nostalgia models like the Classic 2000 and Peacock.