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The jukebox when opened.
The internal workings of said jukebox.

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 were the first forms of automated coin-operated musical devices. These were soon followed in the 1890s by coin-operated phonographs.[1][2] The introduction of recording on wax cylinder records made possible records which could survive many plays, and early operators converted cylinder phonographs to accept a coin, usually a nickel, which unlocked the mechanism, allowing the listener to turn a crank which simultaneously wound the spring motor and placed the reproducer's stylus in the starting groove. Frequently exhibitors would equip many of these machines with listening tubes (acoustic headphones) and array them in "phonograph parlors" allowing the patron to select between multiple records, each played on its own machine. Some machines even contained carousels and other mechanisms for playing multiple records. However, by the early 1900s the novelty of the phonograph wore off and this, combined with the advent of phonographs in the home, as well as the increasing sophistication and volume of mechanical orchestrions in public facilities, led to the decline of the coin-operated phonograph industry.

The advent of electrical recording and amplification led to a resurgence of the coin-operated phonograph.

One of the first successful selective jukeboxes was an automatic phonograph produced in 1927 by the Automated Musical Instrument Company, later known as AMI. With the passage of time the and development of technology new products are manufactured and consequently in 1928, Justus P. Seeburg, who manufactured player pianos, created an electrostatic loudspeaker combined with a record player that was coin operated and gave the listener a choice of eight records.[3] The shellac 78 rpm record dominated jukeboxes until the Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45 rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950.

The term "juke box" came into use in the United States around 1940, apparently derived from the familiar usage "juke joint", derived from the Gullah word "juke" or "joog" meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked. This term, like thousands of words in the Gullah language, likely originated in Western Africa near Sierra Leone[4] and is akin to the Wolof dzug and Bambara dzugu[5].

Wallboxes were an important, and profitable, part of any jukebox installation. Basically a remote control, they enabled patrons to select tunes from their table or booth. The most famous is the Seeburg 3W1, introduced in 1949 as companion to the new 100-select Model M100A jukebox. Stereo sound became popular in the early 1960s, and wallboxes of the era were designed with built-in speakers to provide patrons a sample of this latest technology. Interestingly, for the next several years, there were very few stereo 45 rpm records made; the "little LP" (also referred to as "stereo 7") was designed and manufactured specifically for jukeboxes. It played at 33 1/3 rpm and was the same physical size as the 45 rpm records, to retain compatibility with the jukebox mechanisms.

Some jukeboxes during this time were able to play other special 33 discs of 45 size, which provide a longer song or multiple songs, for a higher price. These specialty records (known as EPs, for "extended play") 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 internal mechanisms remained moderately stable by comparison. Song-popularity counters told the operator the number of times each record was played (A and B side were generally not distinguished), with the result that popular records remained, while lesser-played songs were replaced with the latest hits.

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. By the middle of the 1940s, three-quarters of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes.[6] 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.

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 physical recordings. The music selection and playback system was replaced by a dedicated proprietary computer. A selection of songs suitable to the venue where the jukebox is located are generally cached in the local storage of the machine. The true advantage of this design is the seemingly endless selection of music available instantly to the customer by automatic download from an internet connection.

Aesthetic style

A 1941 24-disc Wurlitzer model 750 jukebox.

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 effects. 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 AMI. Affectionately referred to as the "Mother of Plastic", it featured large areas of opalescent plastics and colored gemstones.

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 1941. But after the United States entered the war, metal and plastic were needed for the war effort. Jukeboxes were considered "nonessential", and none were produced until 1946. The 1942 Wurlitzer 950 featured wooden coin chutes to save on metal. At the end of the war, in 1946, jukebox production resumed and several "new" companies joined the fray.

Reproduction Wurlitzer 1015 in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana

They did not last.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.

Seeburg Wall-o-Matic tableside extension, at Triple XXX, Issaquah, Washington, 2009



There are basically two operating formats, Toroidal selector, and Pin selector. Most Juke Boxes use a pin type memory selector system.



N.S.M. (Napps, Shultz, Manga), built in Germany, came in both operating formats: toroidal selector, and pin selector. Seeburg used the toroidal system exclusively. Seeburg sued N.S.M. for infringement of copyright patent which is why there are two types of selector systems within the N.S.M. range. N.S.M. came to an arrangement with Seeburg and so reverted back to the superior Toroidal system. The N.S.M. company introduced the best pin selection system without any significant change to their current format/layout. This jukebox became the pub/café choice of jukebox due to its price of purchase, size, easy use of service and high-powered sales force.


A toroid is a piece of ferrite and has the unique quality of being in a state of activity. It is shaped in bead type fashion and its magnetic field is either clockwise or anti clockwise. The toroid can be “spun” in either direction by inducing an E.M.F. through its centre. This effect is used as a memory device. Passing a voltage from left to right causes the toroid to spin clockwise, passing a voltage right to left causes the toroid to spin anti clockwise.

Write in sequence

Described is the function and operation of the N.S.M. Prestige 160b toroid memory system.(The original lid key being K50).

Selections are chosen by pressing the desired keys (letter and number). This operates a double pole double-throw sliding switch. One side of the switch goes to the memory (toroid) the second side of the switch operates the N Motor. The selector rail is wired in a way so as to defeat cheating, i.e. pressing two numbers or two letters together (Series connection). Both the letters and numbers pass through the toroid. As described in the credit section the A.K. Wipe contacts close. A 150-volt pulse is passed across this contact. Through the numbers and letter switches then through the toroid thus spinning it in a clockwise direction. A memory has been generated. A Zener diode within the control centre stabilises this voltage. Multiple selection problems can be caused through the breakdown of the Zener diode.(ZD1 LP11 Board)


Passing a coin through the coin entry takes away the coin control from the customer. It passes onto a mechanical coin mechanism. The coin is measured, weighed, tested for metal content and man made washers; it is then diverted along the coin value route

Credit 2

After passing through the coin mechanism the coin hits a coin paddle/switch this energises a small solenoid within the credit control unit. This advances a 4-sprocket credit wheel arrangement. Wheel one 5p, Wheel two, 10 p Wheel three 20p, Wheel four, 50p depending on the credit given is dependent on the coin offered. Bonus credit could be 1 play for 5 p 2 plays for 10 p 5 plays for 20p and a staggering 15 plays for 50 p. Once credit is established the A.K. contacts close and the 30-volt credit circuit is activated, lighting the credit lamp and energising the latch bar solenoid. The circuit description is: Plus volts (30v) - AK- numbers and letters (key bank) - T.M. -(latch bar soliniod) - W.S.(reastart locking relay) - N2 contact (N1,N2,N3,N4,) - minus (0 volts)

Selection cycle

On the menu of selections the letters 0 and I are missing…this has two purposes 1; ambiguity 2; required layout. The layout of the keyboard is in the 160 selection mode, A…to…K = 10 letters and L…TO…V = 10 letters. 1…to…8 = 8 numbers. Therefore 20x8 = 160 selections 80 A sides and 80 B-sides. As the latch bar solenoid is energised the letter and number keys can be operated. As the name suggests, the keys when pressed are latched. The pre- selection cycle begins. The N1,2,3.4 motor WM, is energised, (situated on the left hand side of the record magazine) N1 being the latch bar hold contact,N4 operates the subtract solenoid and write in trigger switch E.K.(situated within the credt unit), N3 is used as the N1,2,3,4 motor carry over contact. As the N1,2,3,4 motor turns it closes the scan contacts, (situated next to the N1.N2,N3,N4 contacts) this function allows the carriage to scan. As the subtract solenoid operates this causes the write in arm that is attached to the subtract solenoid to close (wipe) across the write in contact (E.K.) The N2 contact opens and de-latches the key bank, if credit is still established it will re-energise the latch bar solenoid on completion of the N1,2,3,4 motor cycle. 4 scans are made, 2 up, 2 down reversing levers are situated on either side of the magazine. The reversing switches are situated on the rear of the magazine behind the N1,2,3,4, motor assembly. As the carriage scans it operates the reversing levers and allows the scan contact pecker to rise one step, on its second traverse the pecker rises totally opening the scan contacts. There are four scans, because a selection made down stream may be chosen first and a new selection upstream may be then chosen so this avoids missed selections.

Carriage and its function

The mechanics of the carriage are easy to maintain and simple in its function. The motor has two windings and operate at 110 volts and 80 volts. the 110 volts is for the scan element (quite a heavy piece of equipment). The 80 volt is for playing the record (a light workload) this also cuts down on the noise generated whilst playing records. As the scan contacts close the motor begins to operate via the already energised motor relay (M.R.) (inside the control centre LP 11 board). At the same time the clutch soliniod is energised causing the carriage to scan. The sensors on the rear of the carriage "tap" each brass rivet looking for a live "yes" toroid, on finding a selection the trip soliniod (L.R.) operates via the trip relay (L.R.)inside the cotrol centre L.P.1 board. This allows the clutch pin to leave its scan location and into its loading position. The main cam begins its cycle. raising the record lift arm opening the clamp arm, closing the clamp arm releasing the tone arm and opening the operating switch (B.S.). When B.S. opens this drops out the motor reylay (M.R.) and so introduces a new 80 volt supply to the motor, the M.R. relay also drops out the clutch solinoid.It is also to be noted that the record lift arm drops back slightly so as not to fowl the record playing. As the motor relay has dropped out this also de-mutes the amplifier. The record plays. As the tone arm reaches its track of point the read magnet on the tone arm assembly causes the read switch to operate energising the motor relay (M.R.) energising the clutch solinoid introducing 110 volts to the motor turning the main cam capturing the tone arm, opening the clamp arm lifting slightly the lift arm, dropping the lift arm,opens the operating switch (B.S.) and finaly dropping the clutch pin into the scan location,. The carriage begins to scan. Upon reaching the far side of the carriage deck the carriage "knocks" the reversing lever, this reverses the direction of the motor. The carriage now searches for other live "B" side selection. See appendix.

Control Centre

The control centre contains the electronics, relays and power systems. Two transformers sit within the control centre. No 1 being the amplifier power supply unit, producing 40 volts and then rectified and passed to the amplifier adaptor, smoothed then passed to the amplifiers. Note, models using the 70s amplifier will not have this interface, the main capacitor lies within the control centre. Two fuses protect the amplifier transformer, 0.6- amp and 1.25- amp. No 2 transformers produce 3 voltages, 30, 80 and 110 volts. The 80 and 110 volt are used exclusively to drive the record playing mechanism. The 30-volt is used to power all other function. A 2-amp fuse protects this transformer. (Never be tempted to over rate these fuses, as severe damage may be the outcome). LP 1 board. (Trip board). This board deals with the carriage trip system. The trip relay activates the trip solenoid on the carriage; the S.C.S transistor operates this relay. See appendix. LP11 Board. This board deals with the mechanical functions. Motor drive, latch bar, subtract solenoid, search, etc. LP 111 Board. This board deals with the write in (toroid selection and read out function). See appendix. Two Zenor diodes are situated within the control centre, they are both fixed to the chassis of the of the control centre. Z.D.1 is rated at 150 volt (write in circuit) ZD 2 for the trip circuit. Test point strip. This is located under the plastic cover on the front of the control centre just below the transformers numbered 1 to 6. See appendix. Din socket. Used to house the grey trip lead.

Notable Models

  • Rock-Ola model 1413 Premier (1942) - Resembles something from a science fiction movie. It has a distinctive blue-green glowing "eye globe" in the lower-middle of its gill-like grille.
  • Rock-Ola model 1422 and 1426 (1946-47) - Beautiful use of rainbow-colored leafy-spiral grill-work resembling violin stems.
  • 1953 Seeburg M100C - This machine played 50 45 rpm records making it a 100 play. Mirrors on the inside rotating animation in the pilasters. Chrome glass tubes in the front, very colorful. This is mostly noted for its repeated appearance in the closing credits for the sit-com "Happy Days".
  • 1954 Rock-Ola 1438 Comet - This was the first 45 RPM Record machine that Rockola offered Exclusively as 45 rpm only. It played 60 45 rpm records (120 Selection) It seemed to share a lot of features from the Seeburg M100C (Pilasters) Curved glass and also had an animated title bar which was square, hence it rotated 4 times to make allow all the selections. Selections were made via one button as to the later typical two. but still had a personal style that many people enjoyed.
  • 1954 Seeburg HF100R - This machine played 50 45 rpm records. Featured glass panels and Icicle chrome on the grill. It had a bandshell appearance with anodized chrome. It had 5 speakers to give the listener better sound "all around the Jukebox"
  • 1962 Rock-Ola Princess - The name is applied to several different models that vary drastically in appearance. This model is popular today for nostalgic use in homes due to its compact size. The most desirable Princess model has a visible mechanism, something nearly universally desired by home jukebox owners.
  • Wurlitzer Model 750 and 750E (1941) - In some ways a precursor to the famous 1015, but with a rounder look.
  • Wurlitzer Model 800 (1941) - Very bold looking model that in some ways resembles a shuttle launch with its two side rockets. A flame-like glimmer was created by internal rotating tubes casting waving shadow patterns against the lights.
  • Wurlitzer Model 850 (1941) - Some of the most artistic grille work. The highlight was a revolving polarizer peacock color animation.
  • Wurlitzer Model 950 (1942) - In some ways a visual hybrid between models 800 and 1015. Black metal edging gives this a look reminiscent of ancient Greek design.
  • Wurlitzer Model 1015 (1946-47) - Considered by many to be the universal design for a jukebox. This is the model with the color-changing columns and bubble tubes and the arching top. Reproductions of this version are made by many commercial jukebox manufacturers to this day. The original played 78 rpm records, but it is available today with CD, 45, and even digital download.
  • Wurlitzer Models 1080 and 1080-A (1947-48) - Another model that seems to have heavy Greek influence. This model was not as colored-light intensive of other models of the era, but makes very stylish use of wood and classical curves.
  • Wurlitzer Jukebox Model 1100 (1948-49) - Represents a transition style between the 40s and 50s jukebox styling when the record player area started opening up behind larger glass displays. Heavy use of chrome styling.
  • AMI "Top Flight" Model (1936-38) - Very distinctive grille-work with a sleek, metallic Sci-Fi feel. (Produced by Rowe International, then known as AMI)
  • AMI Model "A" Jukebox of (1946-47) - Unique "space helmet" look. In many ways the styling was ahead of its time. The model A was also the first jukebox to play both side of every record. It held 20 78-rpm discs and offered patron 40 selections. (Produced by Rowe International, then known as AMI)
  • Seeburg Model "G" - This Jukebox is known as the "Happy Days Machine," as it was used in the sitcom Happy Days. It was 100 play and features chrome pilasters.
  • AMI Model "G" Jukebox of (1954) - Has the look of a "Fish Tank" and has been named so. This was the first machine to use a folded horn concept speaker system (Produced by Rowe International, then known as AMI)
  • AMI Model H, I, J and K All of these models had the 50's car windshield look. (eg: 1958 Plymouth front windshield [wrap around]) This was a new concept and currently people in Europe grab these machines as fast as they can. Last year for this style for AMI was 1960 and was the model K. The model I remains at this time time the MOST desirable machine to own. (Produced by Rowe International, then known as AMI)
  • AMI Continental - Often compared to the Jetsons' car, this model has the selections on a curved vertical board. The mechanism is visible through a clear dome on the top of the main body. This model is especially popular today in Europe.


  1. ^ SF Weekly - story on Louis Glass, Dec. 1, 1999
  2. ^ Great Geek Manual - Glass/Arnold patents
  3. ^ Carlisle, Rodney (2004). Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries, p.357. John Wiley & Songs, Inc., New Jersey. ISBN 0471244104.
  4. ^ Joseph A. Opala. "The Gullah:Rice, slavery, and the Sierra Leone connection". 
  5. ^ "Juke house". 
  6. ^ Cowen, Tyler (2000). In praise of commercial culture. Harvard University Press. pp. 164,166. ISBN 0674001885. 

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